HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge has wrongly prevented "common-sense policies" from taking effect by blocking President Barack Obama's executive action that seeks to shield millions of immigrants from deportation, and the federal government plans to continue its fight in a higher court, the White House said Wednesday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the policies are in the best interest of the economy and supported by businesses, faith leaders and local law enforcement across the country, "including in some communities that are located in pretty red states."
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen refused late Tuesday night to lift a temporary hold he imposed on the president's policies in February after 26 states — led by Texas — filed a lawsuit challenging the changes. The U.S. Department of Justice had asked Hanen to reverse his decision, but the Brownsville, Texas-based judge said the government had not "shown any credible reason" to immediately reverse his ruling.
That means the Obama administration is still temporarily barred from implementing policies that would allow as many as five million people to remain in the U.S. even though they live in the country illegally.
Earnest said the administration will continue its fight at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which the Justice Department had already asked to lift the injunction. The appels court is scheduled to hear arguments April 17.
"The fact is that the president announced common-sense policies to help bring accountability, some much-needed accountability, to our broken immigration system," Earnest said during a White House briefing Wednesday.
The states' lawsuit argues that Obama's action is unconstitutional and would force local governments to invest more in law enforcement, health care and education. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday that "any premature implementation could have serious consequences, inflicting irreparable harm on our state."
The White House argues that the court is blocking the policies in states that support the changes.
Obama announced the executive orders in November, saying Congress' lack of action on immigration rules forced him to make sweeping changes on his own
The first of Obama's orders is to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It was set to take effect Feb. 18. The other major part, set to begin May 19, would extend deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for several years.
Hanen issued his initial injunction believing that neither action had taken effect. But the Justice Department later confirmed that more than 108,000 people had already received three-year reprieves from deportation and work permits. DOJ attorneys insisted the moves were made under 2012 guidelines and apologized for any confusion, but Hanen seemed unconvinced during a hearing last month and threatened to sanction the attorneys.
In his ruling Tuesday, Hanen said the federal government had been "misleading." But he said he wouldn't immediately apply sanctions against the government in part because he didn't want to cloud an issue of national importance whose "outcome will affect millions of people."
"The parties' arguments should be decided on their relative merits according to the law, not clouded by outside allegations that may or may not bear on the ultimate issues in this lawsuit," Hanen wrote.
In a separate order, Hanen imposed an April 21 deadline for the Justice Department to submit information about the advisory it sent in March about the 108,000 three-year reprieves, including a list of people who knew about it.
"Don't try to mislead our courts and don't attempt to circumvent the law using illegal executive amnesty orders," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.
The other states seeking to block Obama's orders are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.