A Federal Appeals court ruled against President Barack Obama and the Justice Department representing him on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. In a 2-1 ruling the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Obama administration’s request to lift an injunction blocking the president’s executive actions regarding immigration, which prevents deportation and gives quasi-legal status for nearly five million of the country’s illegal immigrants. The court upheld the injunction placed in February by a Texas Federal judge that has frozen those programs.
During the appeals process the injunction will remain affect, and illegal immigrants that would have qualified for the programs Obama introduced will not be allowed be apply for them. The panel in their decision said this is because they seem certain the administration would not be able to overturn the injunction, writing, “Because the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction, we deny the motion for stay and the request to narrow the scope of the injunction.”
The ruling all but assures a lengthy legal battle that will lead to Obama’s actions not being implemented during his presidency. Immigration reform and at least these executive actions was important to President Obama’s second term goals and legacy. The Justice Department is now considering their next move, which might consist of appealing to the Fifth Circuit’s full panel or even the Supreme Court. The failed appeal comes after the administration filed in March to obtain an “emergency stay lifting the order.”
The three-judge panel in New Orleans consisted of Judge Jerry Smith appoint by Republican Ronald Reagan, Smith also wrote the opinion. Joining him was Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, who was appointed by Republican George W. Bush. The dissention came Obama’s appointee, Judge Stephen A. Higginson.
The judges argued, “The public interest favors maintenance of the injunction.” They also wrote, “It is the affirmative act of conferring ‘lawful presence’ on a class of unlawfully present aliens. Though revocable, that new designation triggers eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available.”
White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine accused the court of “chos[ing] to misinterpret the facts and the law in denying the government’s request for a stay.” Hoffine insisted, “The president’s actions … are squarely within the bounds of his authority, and they are the right thing to do for the country.” Hoffine also argued that they were legal, “President Obama’s immigration executive actions are fully consistent with the law. The President’s actions were designed to bring greater accountability to our broken immigration system, grow the economy, and keep our communities safe.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling a “victory for those committed to preserving the rule of law in America.” In his statement he commented, “Telling illegal aliens that they are now lawfully present in this country, and awarding them valuable government benefits, is a drastic change in immigration policy. The President’s attempt to do this by himself, without a law passed by Congress and without any input from the states, is a remarkable violation of the U.S Constitution and laws.”
The decision also pleased Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), who had been vocally against President Obama’s executive action, saying those on immigration, went too far. Boehner stated, “The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, and the courts have agreed once again.”
In February a Texas federal judge has granted the requests of 26 states to block those executive actions with a temporary injunction. Late Monday evening, Feb. 16, 2015 U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, issued the injunction just before the first part of Obama’s orders from going into effect on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Judge Hanen reasoned that the administration did not “comply” with Administrative Procedures Act’s “requirements.” Hanen said that that the executive actions would place a heavy burden on the states’ resources.
The Justice Department argued President Obama acted in “prosecutorial discretion” and that the administration was issuing “general statement of policy,” not rules, which is exempt from the “notice and comment” “requirement,” and therefore Judge Hanen had no legal basis to block the actions. The Justice Department argued immigration is a federal issue not a concern of the states, and they had “no standing” to request the injunction.
The Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 26 states in November when he was still Texas’ Attorney General. Arguments were held in January in Brownsville Texas.
The executive actions would have prevented nearly 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation. The first part would have expanded on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program” (DACA), relating to immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children; only 270,000 will be affected.
The injunction has to do with the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), which protects the parents of U.S. citizens from deportations and allows them to defer deportation and legally work in the country; this part was suppose to commence in May, and represents the bulk, 4.7 million illegal immigrants.
After Congress failed to pass a Senate bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill from 2013, President Obama decided to take matters in his own hands in November 2014, just as the newly elected Republican Congress warned him they would block its implementation, because those orders went beyond the president’s Constitutional right. Still President Obama went ahead and expanded and created new programs, even taking applications months before the program was set to be implemented, without the knowledge of Congress.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.