A day before hundreds of thousands of illegal Caribbean and immigrants were to begin applying for work permits and legal protection, the United States has jettisoned sweeping executive actions on immigration indefinitely.
White House officials said President Barack Obama decided to postpone the plan in order to comply with a federal judge’s last-minute order Monday night in halting the programs.
In his 123-page ruling, Judge Andrew S. Hanen said Obama administration officials had provided “perplexing” misrepresentations of the scope and impact of the president’s actions.
He said the new programs were “a substantive change to immigration policy,” and that they were, “in effect, a new law.”
The judge dismissed the argument that those changes were a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion, ruling that the administration had engaged in “a complete abdication” of enforcement.
Hanen said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cannot “enact a program whereby it not only ignores the dictates of Congress, but actively acts to thwart them.”
According to the New York Times, the judge’s ruling was a “significant setback for the president, who had asserted broad authority to take executive actions in the face of congressional Republicans’ refusal to overhaul the immigration system.”
White House officials, however, said Obama’s action is “legal and proper,” according to the Times.
Judge Hanen, of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in Brownsville, ruled in favor of Texas and 25 other states that had challenged the president’s immigration plan.
Hanen said that the administration’s programs would impose significant burdens on states, unleashing illegal immigration and straining state budgets.
He added that Washington had not followed required procedures for changing federal rules.
But President Obama vowed on Tuesday to appeal the court ruling, expressing confidence that he would prevail in the legal battle to defend his signature domestic policy achievement.
“The law is on our side, and history is on our side,” he said.
White House officials said the government would continue preparing to put Obama’s executive actions into effect but would not begin accepting applications from illegal workers until the legal case was settled, according to the Times.
In the interim, Obama urged Republican legislators to return to negotiations on a broader overhaul of immigration laws.
“We should not be tearing some mom away from her child when the child has been born here and that mom has been living here the last 10 years minding her own business and being an important part of the community,” he said.
But White House officials and some legal scholars noted that another federal judge had dismissed a different challenge to the president’s executive actions, and they predicted that Judge Hanen’s decision was likely to be suspended by the appeals court, according to the Times.
“Federal supremacy with respect to immigration matters makes the states a kind of interloper in disputes between the president and Congress,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard. “They don’t have any right of their own.”
Immigrant advocates, at the same time, derided Hanen’s ruling, saying he had failed to consider the benefits to national security and the economy of having millions of unauthorized immigrants begin taking background checks and paying taxes.
Advocates said they would continue to prepare immigrants to file applications, assuming that the programs go into effect soon.
“Detractors of these programs may try to paint this as a fight with the president, but make no mistake: Attempts to dismantle these programs are attacks on American families,” said Janet Murguía, president of NCLR, also known as the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Latino organization.