Left in Limbo

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Judge blocks Obama’s immigration actions.

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, issuing a decision barely a day before the first phase of the executive action had been slated to begin and launching a potentially lengthy legal battle that could take weeks.

Responding to a lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction late Monday that halts the implementation of “any and all” aspects of the president’s effort to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Hasen’s decision suggests he sides with at least part of the states’ argument that local governments have suffered a substantial burden in implementing the measures. The preliminary injunction puts a temporary hold on the implementation of the executive action while Hanen makes a final decision.

The development only temporarily puts the brakes on sign-ups for the program – it does not throw out Obama’s executive measures as a whole. But the decision delays when those who would have been eligible for the program are able to enroll. It also raises uncertainties over if and when many of those who would be eligible to seek deportation protection under the action will be able to do so.

The first stage of applications were scheduled to roll out Wednesday, expanding the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to undocumented immigrants older than 30. The second, and more extensive, phase of the program was to begin later this spring. Now, undocumented immigrants who would have been eligible for the two programs must wait and see how the situation plays out in the courts.

The White House will appeal the decision, saying in a statement Tuesday morning that the president worked well within his powers in determining which undocumented immigrants the federal government’s prioritizes for deportation.

“The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts and the district court in Washington, D.C., have determined that the president’s actions are well within his legal authority,” the White House statement said. “The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, common sense policies from taking effect, and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”

Republicans have led a two-pronged charge against the unilateral actions, arguing that the president overstepped his authority in implementing such broad protections to undocumented immigrants. On top of the state-level lawsuit, congressional Republicans have sought to gut the executive actions by tying its implementation to legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The House GOP passed legislation last month to fund the agency through September on the condition that funding be withheld from the executive measures. Democrats have successfully filibustered the bill in the Senate, while the White House has made clear that the president will not sign any legislation to unravel his own program.

The congressional Republican strategy has come with some risk. The critical government agency is at risk of shutting down by Feb. 27 without congressional action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, said in a statement Tuesday that Republicans will not be backing down.

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