While President Obama has made it clear his administration will appeal District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling blocking his executive action on immigration, the president’s immigration plan will likely be on hold for months or longer.
Though no final decision has been made, Obama administration sources told ABC News today that the Department of Justice is unlikely to seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order. The reason is simple: While DOJ thinks it will ultimately prevail on the overall appeal, department officials believe they would not succeed in seeking an emergency stay of Judge Hanen’s ruling.
The judge’s ruling is likely to remain in place while the case is appealed before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and, quite possibly, to the Supreme Court. That process is likely to take six months -- or longer. That means the 5 million undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the president's executive action will have to wait.
President Obama expressed confidence today that his executive actions on immigration will ultimately be upheld after a Texas district court injunction blocked the plans from being implemented.
“I think the law is on our side and history is on our side,” President Obama told reporters in the Oval Office today.
The ruling came just a day before applications for DACA, which expand upon the president's previous 2012 DACA program to remove age restrictions, were set to begin. The judge’s order also put a pause on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) applications, which allow parents of American citizens to seek legal status. DAPA applications were not set to be accepted until later this year.
“I disagree with the Texas judge’s ruling and the Justice Department will appeal. This is not the first time where a lower court judge has blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately was shown to be lawful,” the president said. “I’m confident that it is well within my authority and the tradition of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion to execute this policy.”
The president said the Department of Homeland Security will adhere to the ruling and not move forward with applications for DACA and DAPA, but he noted the department will continue to prepare to administer the plans once the legal issues are resolved.
“We’re not going to disregard this federal court ruling. The law is the law in this country, and we take things a step at a time,” Obama said.
Judge Hanen’s ruling does acknowledge the administration’s right to exercise prosecutorial discretion about who is targeted for deportation, but said the DACA and DAPA programs went a step further and changed legal status of the population. While the undocumented immigrants covered by the president’s executive actions will not be able to apply for work permits, the department can decide which people and cases to prioritize for deportation. The department has previously said it will not go after “moms with kids,” but without DACA and DAPA there is no way for the population to register with the government and legally be reprieved from deportation.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference today that the DOJ is still reviewing the decision and determining how the administration will proceed with the appeals process. But he said the judge's ruling is just one ruling, and it is an "interim step" on an issue that will ultimately be decided by a higher court.
The ruling comes at a time when Congress is embroiled in a fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security that expires Feb. 27. Democrats have repeatedly filibustered a Republican-backed measure to fund the department that includes provisions that would halt the president’s recent executive actions from going into effect.
Congressional Republicans are using the ruling as another tool to insist Democrats back their funding plan for the Department of Homeland Security.
“This ruling underscores what the president has already acknowledged publicly 22 times: He doesn’t have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as 'ignoring the law' and 'unwise and unfair,'" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement today. "Senate Democrats -- especially those who've voiced opposition to the president’s executive overreach -- should end their partisan filibuster of Department of Homeland Security funding."
"The Senate Democrats who are filibustering Department of Homeland Security funding should look hard at this ruling,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement today. “At a time when we face grave national security threats, at home and abroad, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to block this funding in an extreme attempt to save Obama's amnesty, which a federal judge has just declared illegal."
President Obama urged lawmakers to pass funding for the Department of Homeland Security “so they can go forward with all the functions that Republicans say they want carried out, including strong border security functions.”
But he also pressed Republicans to work with Democrats on immigration reform.
“With a new Congress, my hope has been that they now get serious in solving the problem. Instead what we’ve had is a series of votes to kick out young people who have grown up here and who everybody recognizes are part of our community, and threats to defund the Department of Homeland Security, which would make it even harder for us to protect our borders and keep our people safe,” the president said.
"My strong advice right now to Congress is, if they are seriously concerned about immigration, about our borders, about being able to keep criminals out of this country then what they should be doing is working together and working with the administration for a comprehensive immigration policy that allows us to be both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he added.
This post has been updated.