Judge Blocks Immigration Reforms

Obama's planned expansion of DACA and DAPA on hold

Judge Andrew Hanen
Judge Andrew Hanen

This week, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen effectively halted expanded immigrant protections by issuing a preliminary injunction blocking President Barack Obama's immigration-related executive action. Obama's policy shift, which he announced last November, could shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Austin immigrant advocates called Hanen's ruling a temporary setback, anticipating it ultimately will be overturned on appeal.

Texas and 25 other states filed the suit in December to prevent from going into effect executive action expanding the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (applications for the expanded program were supposed to be made available this week), and creating the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, slated to begin in May. On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott, who filed the lawsuit in his capacity at the time as Texas Attorney General, issued a palpably gleeful statement saying, "President Obama abdicated his responsibility to uphold the United States Constitution when he attempted to circumvent the laws passed by Congress via executive fiat, and Judge Hanen's decision rightly stops the president's overreach in its tracks."

The decision is "not a complete surprise, because Texas deliberately shopped around for a court where they knew the judge would be sympathetic to their case," according to Bill Beardall, executive director of the Equal Justice Center and a UT-Law professor. "That's why they filed it in this court." Hanen, whose court sits in Brownsville, had harshly criticized Obama's immigration policies in previous rulings. His 123-page opinion ruled Obama violated the federal Admini­strat­ive Procedure Act of 1946 by enacting a "substantive rule" without ensuring the Department of Homeland Security, in charge of implementing the policy, followed procedural requirements. Immigra­tion attorney Mehron Azarmehr was unimpressed by the reasoning: "When you get to the substance of what was issued, it doesn't take away from the fact of the Constitutional Supremacy Clause," he said, referring to overarching federal discretion. "Immigration is one of those areas where the Constitution has given that authority [to the federal government], and in which states are precluded from acting."

Naturally, frustration abounded among those working to help immigrants achieve the American Dream: "The Republicans have systematically blocked any attempt at immigration reform and now thwarted a program to regularize the lives of many who live, work, and contribute to our community," said Barbara Hines, a recently retired UT-Law professor. Workers Defense Action Fund Executive Director Cristina Tzintzún expressed similar disappointment: "It's clear people are playing politics with the lives of millions of people; Republican attorneys general and governors are doing this instead of letting good, sound policy move forward."

Yet the ruling won't impede local immigrant advocates, who vowed to continue educational outreach in anticipation of federal appeal. "I'm not disheartened because of legal precedent," said Amelia Ruiz Fischer, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. "And we're on the right side of this." The Obama administration plans to appeal the injunction.

Beardall suggested the latest GOP blockade is part and parcel of an immigrant experience heavy on hardships but suffused with optimism: "This is a community that understands struggle. They understand overcoming obstacles and not letting setbacks completely derail their upward mobility."

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immigration, Andrew Hanen, Barack Obama, Greg Abbott, DACA, DAPA, Bill Beardall, Amelia Ruiz-Fischer, Cristina Tzintzún, Workers Defense Action Fund, Equal Justice Center, Mehron Azarmehr, Texas Civil Rights Project

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