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Obama’s immigration actions hit a legal wall

A federal district judge in Texas says states suing the administration have standing in case over stopping deportations

On Presidents Day, millions of people potentially covered by Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration got a nasty surprise.

Federal Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in Brownsville, Texas, that it was not in the president's power to make millions of people living and working in the country illegally a lower priority for deportation for the rest of his term.

The ruling is a response to a lawsuit filed by Texas and joined by some 25 other states mostly in the South and Midwest. It's to counter Obama's directives announced in November. 

Now the president's actions have been temporarily blocked. They would have shielded up to 5 million people from deportation and allowed a number of them to work legally.

Hanen's ruling comes just one day before eligible people could begin submitting applications to take advantage of the new policies.

How will this affect families hoping to stay in the U.S.?

Is Hanen's stay legal? Were Obama's executive actions legal?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

Greisa Martinez

Originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, Greisa Martinez immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 2 months old. She began advocating for immigrant rights as a senior in high school, helping lead student walkouts in Dallas in 2006, organizing thousands of students around the immigration debate and registering Latino youths to vote. 

Inside Story: Tell us about yourself and your family.

Greisa Martinez: I am originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, and grew up in Dallas, Texas. I came when I was 8 months old. We just wanted more for our family, which is what led my parents to come. My family settled in Dallas, Texas. My dad was deported a few years ago. My family made the difficult decision to stay in the U.S. 

Are there ways in which your mother acts differently to avoid deportation?

One of my sisters just became a grad student at Texas Tech. My mom was hoping she could visit her to bring her food. She can visit but not use a car to do so. Planning for big life events is difficult. Because of my mom’s undocumented status, one of my sisters was planning on getting married, but she has deferred it because she is not sure her mom will be here. 

What actions are coming up to hold lawmakers accountable?

I believe that the Republican strategy to kill this program is to put people like my mother in the shadows. The way we protect our victory is show people can come out of the shadows and protect our victory. We are holding Republicans accountable for the rhetoric they are using in scaring our communities. The other piece, which is mostly out of our hands, is the legal component. We have always known that this is under the president's constitutional authority. We are making sure we have a good legal strategy to make the injunctions permanent.

Can you make the case for the judge?

Josh Blackman: I filed an amicus brief in support of Texas. The judge’s opinion effectively said that the president exceeded the scope of discretion allowed to him. It did not rule it unconstitutional. It just said that the president failed to take the proper procedures. It strongly hinted that it would be ruled unconstitutional even if the proper procedures were followed through.

How do you respond to the argument that this is not a new policy but an attempt to apply a new standard of discretion to the existing rules?

This is unlike anything that any president has done before. All previous executive actions have involved some specific policy to be addressed in which people already had some status. One example is Hurricane Katrina. Foreign students were in jeopardy of losing their visas due to interrupted classes. President George W. Bush put deportation on hold for four months.

President Obama is doing something qualitatively and quantitatively different. These people never had a status or were never on line to get a status.

If the Department of Justice gets a favorable ruling from the 5th Circuit, what happens?

If that happens, Texas will go to the Supreme Court with a request for an emergency hold. I suspect the Supreme Court will put it on hold to consider it. Once it is in effect, it is impossible to undo. 

Should the administration have allowed a comment period? And why does this not violate the "take care" clause?

Marielena Hincapié: The Supreme Court has recognized that the "take care" clause does not mean that a presidential administration is required to enforce every aspect of every law — just as it is not the law enforcement body’s obligation to prosecute every driver who speeds … The Supreme Court recognizes that it is the executive branch that gets to decide how to use its resources. That is exactly what the administration has said here. It decided on a level of different level of priorities and that it is not in the public interest to deport another 10-year-old. It is not a change in policy or a new law or rule.

So it's legal but not advisable?

We would agree that it is both legal and advisable. We have limited resources in the Department of Homeland Security budget, and we should not, as a nation, be deporting mothers and fathers of U.S. citizen children. We should not have mothers and fathers leaving behind their children living in the United States. These are common-sense policies, good for our economy and good from a humanitarian perspective. That is what the administration is trying to do with these policy changes, not administrative rule changes.

The above panel was assembled for the broadcast of “Inside Story” to discuss.

For future hard-hitting conversations, find Al Jazeera America on your TV.

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