Both the White House and illegal immigrants said Tuesday that they would not be swayed by a federal judge’s decision in Texas halting President Obama’s deportation amnesty as overstepping the bounds of his powers.
Within hours of the decision, immigrants had said they would still prepare to apply for the program and the White House was vowing to appeal the ruling that accused Mr. Obama of granting “benefits and privileges” to people that the law says should be deported.
In a ruling late Monday, Judge Andrew S. Hanen said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was “not just rewriting the laws; he is creating them from scratch” when he wrote the amnesty, which could have granted tentative legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers to more than 4 million illegal immigrants. Judge Hanen issued an injunction halting the program until he can hold a full trial.
The administration was poised to start accepting amnesty applications Wednesday, but it found itself scrambling to regroup while insisting it will eventually win the court fight.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans said now that a judge has ruled the president’s actions are likely illegal, Democrats should stop filibustering the Homeland Security spending bill, which they have been blocking as part of their defense of Mr. Obama’s immigration plans.
Judge Hanen’s 123-page ruling doesn’t mean any of the illegal immigrants who would have been approved for the amnesty will be deported. The judge said Mr. Obama does have the discretion to decide whom to deport given the resources he has, and the president has said he won’t deport longtime illegal immigrants without serious criminal records.
But the judge said the president and Mr. Johnson went beyond those powers when they created a program proactively allowing illegal immigrants to come forward and be granted driver’s licenses, work permits and potentially billions of dollars in tax credits.
“Instead of merely refusing to enforce the [Immigration and Naturalization Act’s] removal laws against an individual, the DHS has enacted a wide-reaching program that awards legal presence, to individuals Congress has deemed deportable or removable, as well as the ability to obtain Social Security numbers, work authorization permits and the ability to travel. Absent [the program], these individuals would not receive these benefits,” Judge Hanen wrote.
Immigrant rights advocates, who predicted Judge Hanen’s ruling, spent weeks trying to undercut him by arguing that he was biased from the start.
One immigrant rights group called Judge Hanen’s decision “judicial vigilantism.” Another called it a “minor legal bump” and said it’s “merely a matter of time” before illegal immigrants win legal status.
Mr. Obama, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, said he would respect the judge’s ruling but predicted an eventual court victory and said the Homeland Security Department will be ready once courts approve his actions.
“The law is on our side, and history is on our side,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama’s amnesty had two parts. The first was an expansion of a 2012 policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, granting tentative legal status and work permits to so-called Dreamers, or illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, who are viewed as the most sympathetic figures in the debate. The second part, known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, granted similar benefits to illegal immigrants whose children are American citizens or legal permanent residents.
Judge Hanen halted both parts of the amnesty, though he left in place the original 2012 policy for Dreamers.
The administration was prepared to start accepting applications for the expanded Dreamers program Wednesday and parental accountability applications in mid-May. Mr. Johnson announced Tuesday afternoon that he was putting both plans on hold in light of Judge Hanen’s ruling.
“The Department of Justice will appeal that temporary injunction; in the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement, adding that he still believes Mr. Obama acted within the law despite the court ruling.
Immigrant rights groups told illegal immigrants to continue preparing their applications. They predicted that an appeals court would step in and stay Judge Hanen’s ruling. Some activists continued with rallies scheduled to coincide with the beginning of the application period, saying they want immigrants to be ready to file immediately.
“We may be delayed, but we will not be deterred,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat. “I am telling immigrant communities to keep preparing to sign up millions of families for protection from deportation.”
In the near term, the ruling further roils the debate on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans have passed a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department while halting Mr. Obama’s amnesties — and Senate Democrats are blocking it through a filibuster.
Both sides are blaming each other for threatening funding for Mr. Johnson’s department that expires Feb. 27. Most of the department’s employees are deemed essential and will remain on the job even with a shutdown, though pay would be delayed for many of them.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Judge Hanen’s ruling should break the impasse and that Democrats are holding up Homeland Security funding in order to defend an illegal action by the president.
Democrats countered that they believe courts will uphold the president’s amnesty and they won’t accept any Homeland Security bill that questions Mr. Obama’s actions.
“This procedural ruling, in our opinion, is very unlikely to be upheld, but regardless of the outcome, Democrats remain united in our believe that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.