Texas judge halts Obama’s immigrant protections

Irish immigration activist calls ruling ‘a setback’ but sees it being overturned on appeal

US president Barack Obama meets  a group of “dreamers” – immigrants brought illegally to the US as children.A federal judge in Texas has blocked Mr Obama’s plans to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation,   claiming  the president is exceeding his legal authority.  Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US president Barack Obama meets a group of “dreamers” – immigrants brought illegally to the US as children.A federal judge in Texas has blocked Mr Obama’s plans to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, claiming the president is exceeding his legal authority. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

US president Barack Obama’s plans to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation have been blocked by a US federal judge in Texas who claims that the president is exceeding his legal authority.

In a setback for Mr Obama’s immigration orders, a key policy for his second-term agenda, District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued an injunction late on Monday against the president’s executive actions introduced without approval by Congress.

The judge, a nominee of Republican president George W Bush and an outspoken critic on immigration, ruled in a case brought by a group of 26 states that they would suffer “irreparable harm” without a preliminary injunction stopping Mr Obama’s protections for migrants.

The ruling comes on the eve of Mr Obama’s immigration actions coming into effect. A programme to block deportation of immigrants brought illegally to the US as children, known as “Dreamers,” was due to be expanded to 270,000 more people from Wednesday.

The most significant part of Mr Obama’s orders would extend deportation protections to the illegal parents of US citizens and permanent residents living in the country for at least five years.

These measures, affecting more than four million people, including, it is estimated thousands of Irish, were not expected until May 19th.

The Obama administration vowed to challenge the ruling, saying that the Department of Justice would appeal the decision, which will be heard by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

“The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect,” the White House said.

Mr Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest said that the Supreme Court and Congress had made clear that the federal government could set priorities in enforcing immigration laws.

Constitutional authority

“The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country,” Judge Hanen wrote. “Further, the record supports the finding that this lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the states’ resources.”

The judge said that once the new immigration orders were enacted, “the genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle.”

The ruling was widely welcomed by Republicans. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the judge’s decision “rightly stops the president’s overreach in its tracks.”

“The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, so it is no surprise that at least one court has agreed,” said Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner.

Mr Boehner has urged Senate Democrats to debate a Bill, already passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, that will remove funding from the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration policies, to enact Mr Obama’s plans.

Major obstacle

Ireland

Clarification is still being awaited from the Department of Homeland Security on the terms under which immigrants eligible for Mr Obama’s protections would be able to travel back to Ireland.

“Of course it is a setback,” said Billy Lawless, vice president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “We will have to fight it but we are confident that it will be overturned.”

Immigration advocates had expected the ruling, he said, as opponents of the orders had “shopped around” for a judge with “like-minded thinking that would give them the decision they wanted.”

Mr Lawless, a Chicago restaurateur who emigrated to the US from Galway, introduced Mr Obama at a rally in the president’s hometown in November in support of his immigration executive orders.

“I would say the appeal courts will overrule it because when I spoke to the president in Chicago last November he said that what they have put in the orders would stand up under any scrutiny in law,” he said.