Dont panic and keep preparing. Thats the message immigration advocates are sending undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of a federal judges decision to temporarily block President Obamas 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.
Hanens 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 wouldve been implemented in May.
Johnson also said the Department of Justice will appeal the judges 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 judges decision doesnt affect the 2012 deferred action program that protects undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to work. He said it also doesnt affect new immigration enforcement priorities that Obama announced as part of his executive actions in November.
In a statement released early Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest projected confidence that the judges decision would be reversed. He also noted that another federal judge in Washington, D.C., determined that the presidents 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 lawswhich 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 judges decision on Tuesday. They said Senate Democrats should now allow debate to begin on a House-approved bill that would fund DHS but block Obamas executive actions on immigration.
This ruling underscores what the President has already acknowledged publicly 22 times: He doesnt 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 Democratsespecially those whove voiced opposition to the Presidents executive overreachshould end their partisan filibuster of Department of Homeland Security funding.
Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates called the judges decision a bump in the road and predicted that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in a few weeks to allow Obamas 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: Dont 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.