Advocates tell immigrants: Don’t panic and keep preparing

Don’t panic and keep preparing. That’s the message immigration advocates are sending undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block President…

Bety Martinez, from Peru, celebrates President Obama’s announcement of a series of new executive actions on immigration that will protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, following a speech by the president on Nov. 20, 2014. A federal judge from Texas issued a preliminary injunction Monday night to block those executive actions. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

Don’t panic and keep preparing. That’s the message immigration advocates are sending undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block President Obama’s recent executive actions that would protect millions of immigrants from deportation.

“Immigrants, their families and our communities should not be afraid,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “In fact, part of the intention behind this political lawsuit was to create confusion and fear in our communities.”

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen handed down a 123-page decision late Monday night, acting on a lawsuit filed by 26 states. He issued a preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of the immigration executive actions that Obama announced in November.

SEE ALSO: Judge temporarily halts Obama’s executive actions on immigration

Hanen’s decision came just before one of those executive actions was set to take effect. Wednesday was supposed to be the day immigrants would be able to begin applying for work permits and protections from deportation under an expanded deferred action program.

But on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said those plans were suspended. He said that until further notice, his department would also delay plans to begin accepting request for another deferred action program that would’ve been implemented in May.

Johnson also said the Department of Justice will appeal the judge’s decision and will “ultimately prevail.” The appeal would go to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

“In the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it,” he said about the preliminary injunction.

In addition, Johnson noted that the judge’s decision doesn’t affect the 2012 deferred action program that protects undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to work. He said it also doesn’t affect new immigration enforcement priorities that Obama announced as part of his executive actions in November.

SEE ALSO: Immigrants, advocacy groups prepare for Obama’s immigration programs

In a statement released early Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest projected confidence that the judge’s decision would be reversed. He also noted that another federal judge in Washington, D.C., determined that the president’s immigration actions were “well within his legal authority.”

“The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws—which is exactly what the President did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system,” Earnest said.

But Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, had a different opinion.

“The [Department of Homeland Security] does have discretion in the manner in which it chooses to fulfill the expressed will of Congress,” Hanen stated in his decision. “It cannot, however, enact a program whereby it not only ignores the dictates of Congress, but actively acts to thwart them.”

Republican members of Congress applauded the judge’s decision on Tuesday. They said Senate Democrats should now allow debate to begin on a House-approved bill that would fund DHS but block Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“This ruling underscores what the President has already acknowledged publicly 22 times: He doesn’t have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as ‘ignoring the law’ and ‘unwise and unfair,’” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “Senate Democrats–especially those who’ve voiced opposition to the President’s executive overreach—should end their partisan filibuster of Department of Homeland Security funding.”

SEE ALSO: Republicans face a quandary as Democrats block DHS funding bill

Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates called the judge’s decision “a bump in the road” and predicted that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in “a few weeks” to allow Obama’s immigration executive actions to move forward. In the meantime, they said, immigrants should continue preparing to apply for the new immigration initiatives.

“Our message to our members and to families who are preparing for deferred action is: Don’t panic. Keep preparing. Keep gathering documentation,” Debbie Smith, associate general counsel of the Service Employees International Union. “We think that this is a timeout, a bump in the road.”