HOUSTON/AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — A federal judge temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration Monday, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision puts on hold Obama’s orders that could spare as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
The federal government is expected to appeal the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The Justice Department had no immediate comment late Monday night.
Hanen’s decision will not have any immediate effect because the first of Obama’s orders — to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — is not set to start taking effect until Feb. 18. The other major part of Obama’s order, which extends deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, is not expected to begin until May 19.
In a 2013 ruling in a separate case, Hanen suggested the Homeland Security Department should be arresting parents living in the U.S. illegally who induce their children to cross the border illegally.
The coalition, led by Texas and made up of mostly conservative states in the South and Midwest, argues that Obama has violated the “Take Care Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which they say limits the scope of presidential power. They also say the order will force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education.
In their request for the injunction, the coalition said it was necessary because it would be “difficult or impossible to undo the president’s lawlessness after the Defendants start granting applications for deferred action.”
For more than 1.5 million Texans, this decision means they’ll return to the shadows until another court takes up the issue.
“Not the best news you can hear in the morning,” said Manuel Ramirez.
His parents brought him to the United States as a child. Much of his family thought they would be able to stay following Obama’s executive action, until the federal judge ruling.
“My family, my friends, my colleagues. We were really excited that this was happening,” said Ramirez. “A lot of folks have been waiting for a decades.”
Gov. Greg Abbott’s last lawsuit as attorney general renewed the fight. More than 20 states joined the cause, galvanizing Republicans across the country and here in Texas.
“It’s a good response to a situation that clearly, I think the president had really moved too far in one direction,” said Rep. Jason Villalba from Dallas.
“It’s hard for us not to view it as a setback,” said Matt Simpson from the ACLU of Texas, adding it won’t be long until this decision is appealed. “We don’t think it’s a long term set back, we think it’s temporary.”
“It’s very close but yet so far away,” said Ramirez. For now, many people like some of Ramirez’s family are again not permitted to be in Texas. The wait continues to see whether an appellate court will let them stay.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block Obama’s actions on immigration by cutting off Homeland Security Department spending for the program. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a $39.7 billion spending bill to fund the department through the end of the budget year, but attached language to undo Obama’s executive actions. The fate of that House-passed bill is unclear as Republicans in the Senate are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation.
The White House has said Obama’s executive order is not out of legal bounds and that the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can set priorities in enforcing immigration laws. Past U.S. Supreme Court decisions have granted immigration officials “broad discretion” on deportation matters.
Others supporting Obama’s executive order include a group of 12 mostly liberal states, including Washington and California, as well as the District of Columbia. They filed a motion with Hanen in support of Obama, arguing the directives will substantially benefit states and will further the public interest.
A group of law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and more than 20 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, also filed a motion in support, arguing the executive action will improve public safety by encouraging cooperation between police and individuals with concerns about their immigration status.
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