By Ben Kamisar
The Texas Attorney General is accusing the Obama administration of misleading a federal court by renewing about 100,000 work permits for illegal immigrants, under new rules that many did not know had gone into effect.
“In an apparent attempt to quickly execute President Obama’s unlawful, unconstitutional amnesty plan, the Obama Administration appears to have already been issuing expanded work permits, in direct contradiction to what they told a federal judge previously in this litigation,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.
“The circumstances behind this must be investigated, and the motion we seek would help us determine to what extent the Administration might have misrepresented the facts in this case.”
Paxton's motion presses the government to explain whether it misled the court by renewing work permit applications for three years — instead of two — under new changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He cites government filings that show the Justice Department told the court the agency wouldn't be processing any applications until mid-February.
A group of 26 states, including Texas, are suing the administration over President Obama's immigration executive actions, which would defer deportations for millions of immigrants living in the U.S. and expand their access to work permits.
The Department of Homeland Security had been gearing up to implement those executive actions until a federal judge halted the implementation of those policies in February. Since that ruling took place before the start date of the most contentious parts of the immigration plan, many assumed that none of the changes had taken effect.
The Justice Department admitted in a court document filed Wednesday that there may have been "confusion" surrounding the administration's decision to extend renewals to three years.
At the same time, Homeland Security officials told The Hill that they had been upfront about the policy since the start. They and point to a November memo from Secretary Jeh Johnson that directs the agency to phase in those specific changes.
"DHS, in Secretary Johnson’s November 20, 2014 directive, made clear it would begin issuing three-year grants shortly thereafter," an agency representative said in a statement.
"Approximately 100,000 of those requests were approved prior to a February 16, 2015 court order enjoining the Secretary's memorandum, including the expansions to DACA. Once the preliminary injunction was issued, USCIS immediately ceased providing the three-year grants."
The judge's order doesn't impact the original guidelines for the DACA program, so the Homeland Security Department is continuing to process two-year work permit renewals under those rules. The administration is also appealing the court's stay that temporarily blocked the implementation of the executive action, as well as making a larger legal argument that the actions are constitutional.