A last-minute decision by a federal judge in Texas has caused bitter disappointment for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who expected they would be able to apply for work permits and protection from deportation under a presidential executive action.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction Monday halting the executive action. The ruling was sought by Texas and 25 other states, including North Carolina, that oppose President Obama’s actions on immigration. In November, Obama signed orders that would allow as many as 270,000 immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for work permits starting Wednesday. He also signed a measure effective this May that would temporarily protect from deportation some 4 million undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.
The judge did not rule on the states’ complaint that Obama’s actions were unconstitutional. He ruled that the temporary protections should be suspended until the case is resolved.
The development was an immediate setback for young undocumented immigrants, but it should discourage all who believe in the impartiality of courts and the decency of the American character. The injunction may well be dissolved on appeal, and in the long run the Obama administration is confident that the president has acted on solid legal ground.
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In the meantime, we have the spectacle of a judge who has been an outspoken critic of U.S. immigration policy straining to thwart the protections with the barest of legal support. The federal government has argued that the lawsuit is a political effort by conservative state leaders who have no standing to claim injury from the president’s actions. The executive actions will not increase illegal immigration, and studies show that allowing undocumented workers to be legally employed would actually boost state revenues. Indeed 12 states have filed briefs in favor of the protections saying allowing undocumented immigrants to work openly will stimulate their state economies.
That hasn’t stopped Republicans from claiming harm. Gov. Pat McCrory said in December upon lending North Carolina’s good name to this nativist suit, “The president’s actions are likely to put even more financial strain on our state's government services.”
That’s rich from a governor whose party’s tax and spending policies have put a terrible strain on state government services. It’s also not true, according to a state-by-state report by the Center for American Progress. The report found that there are more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants in North Carolina who are potentially eligible for deferred action under Obama’s executive orders. If they were able to receive temporary work permits and pay taxes, the report said, it would lead to a $197 million increase in tax revenue over five years.
Despite such reports, Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, found that one of the states suing, Texas, would be harmed because it would have to meet the cost of issuing driver’s licenses to some undocumented immigrants. Should the states win their lawsuit, he said, Texas could not recover the expense of issuing licenses. This sort of transparent politicking from the bench is increasingly common as conservatives ask the courts for what they cannot attain through legislation.
Beyond the courtroom folly, the arrival of another obstacle to addressing the problem of millions of undocumented immigrants reveals the meanness of the conservative approach. Conservatives have no solution. Deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants is not a realistic option. The president’s action would give undocumented immigrants a mental and emotional reprieve until Congress can pass new 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,” Obama said.
Polls show most Americans agree. Congress should get about passing a new immigration law.