The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is suspending President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, slamming the brakes on an expansion of deportation deferrals after an order from a federal judge.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said he “strongly” disagrees with the move by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to temporarily block the new programs, some of which were slated to begin Wednesday, but said the administration will let the legal process play out.
“The Department of Justice will appeal that temporary injunction; in the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it,” Johnson said.
Obama in November moved to shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, in part by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he created in 2012 and by expanding access to work permits.
Republicans denounced Obama's actions as overreach and have passed legislation to fund the DHS that would prevent his plans from being carried out. That bill, passed by the House, has been repeatedly blocked by Democrats in the Senate, creating a stalemate that threatens to cause a partial shutdown of the department on Feb. 28.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive things to watch in round 2 of Trump confirmation fights This week: Confirmation fights dominate ahead of inauguration Juan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio) BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE-no-surprise-judge-blocked-obama-on-immigration%20%20">said the court order shows why Democrats should join them in defunding Obama’s immigration actions.
“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,” McConnell said in a statement.
The lawsuit could change lawmakers' strategy in the DHS fight because Obama's order could be delayed for days or even weeks to come. Johnson said the suspension of the immigration programs will be in place “until further notice.”
Hanen’s temporary injunction, released late Monday night, halted the enactment of the new programs pending a ruling from his court, which is expected soon.
He issued the injunction after a group of 26 states sued Obama, arguing he had overstepped his powers under the Constitution by changing immigration policy unilaterally.
Outgoing Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderFormer AG launches redistricting effort to help Dems reclaim power The racism inquisition over Jeff Sessions Dem rep to Obama: Don’t ‘lay back’ after presidency MORE on Tuesday downplayed Hanen’s ruling, calling it "an interim step" in the legal process.
"I think that we have to look at this decision for what it is," Holder said at a National Press Club luncheon. "It is a decision by one federal district court judge."
"I've always expected that this is a matter that will ultimately be decided by a higher court — if not the Supreme Court, then a federal court of appeals," Holder said.
Other proponents of Obama’s immigration action emphasized that a district judge doesn’t have the final say. Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called Hanen's injunction “far outside the legal mainstream.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed the administration’s declaration that the president’s actions were lawful, adding that, “every president since Eisenhower has used his authority to refine our immigration system.”
“How sad for our impacted 'Dreamers' and their families, how necessary it is for an immediate appeal of this ruling,” she said, mentioning the group of undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.
“I am confident such an appeal will succeed."
Johnson noted that the court’s order does not affect illegal immigrants who have already been enrolled in DACA, and said immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children can still apply for a deportation deferral under those previous policies.
The judge’s order also has no effect on the DHS’s ability to exercise discretion in which immigrants it chooses to target for deportation, Johnson said.
Obama and administration officials are prioritizing the deportation of illegal immigrants who could be a threat to national security.
Updated at 4:11 p.m.