Gutierrez: Obama eyes partial launch of anti-deportation program

A top House Democrat said Wednesday that President Obama is eying a partial launch of his new deportation-relief programs, despite a federal court's recent decision to block them.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said the administration is weighing whether it has the authority to initiate the executive actions in the states not involved in a lawsuit against them.

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Texas and 25 other states have sued the president over the new programs, which would shield millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from deportation. The administration has said it will comply with the ruling, as it awaits the outcome of an appeal.

But roughly a dozen other states have filed briefs in support of the executive programs, and immigration reform advocates are urging Obama to launch the initiatives in the 24 states not suing the White House.

Gutiérrez took that argument a step further, suggesting the Texas ruling is limited only to the Lone Star state and that the programs could launch across the rest of the country. The administration, he said, is considering that option.

“That's absolutely something the White House is looking at,” Gutiérrez said Wednesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. 

“I think it's a great idea to look at the lawsuit and to say, 'OK judge, since you think the harm is to Texas, why can't we proceed in the rest of the states of the union and set that one aside?’ ” the Illinois Democrat added. 

“I think that is a very worthy observation, and the White House — I know the advocates are on it — but I've got to tell you, President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaConfirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma Dean drifts behind in DNC race Republicans tried to flip Electoral College voters too — look at 2008 MORE is on it, too. He's thinking about it, and the White House has been trying to figure out [if it's an option].”

The comments come less than an hour after the president met at the White House with immigration reform advocates who are urging him to consider the partial implementation in the wake of the federal ruling.

That decision, handed down last week by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville, Texas, put an immediate halt to a pair of executive programs Obama announced shortly after the midterm elections.

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, known as DAPA, would halt deportations and offer work permits to the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The other would expand Obama's 2012 program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, to a greater number of immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids. 

Texas and the other plaintiffs contend they would suffer exorbitant new costs under the programs, which they deem a case of executive overreach.

Hanen agreed, arguing that the states have a basis to sue because they would face new costs in issuing drivers licenses to immigrants newly eligible for driving privileges under Obama's new programs. 

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that DAPA will directly injure the proprietary interests of their driver's license programs and cost the States badly needed funds,” Hanen wrote. “In Texas alone, the state is projected to absorb significant costs. If the majority of the DHS Directive beneficiaries residing in the state apply for driver's licenses, Texas will bear directly a $174.73 per applicant expense, costing the state millions of dollars.”

Some legal scholars are questioning Hanen's argument, saying it ignores the new tax revenue and other economic benefits of granting those immigrants a quasi-legal status.

“This court's idea of a cost-benefit analysis seems to be to consider only the costs,” said Stephen Legomsky, former chief counsel of at the DHS' Citizenship and Immigration Services branch and now a professor at Washington University School of Law.

Gutiérrez, Congress's loudest immigration reform advocate who has often clashed with Obama over the administration's deportation policies, had nothing but praise for the president Wednesday regarding the White House approach to the Texas lawsuit.

“We have a lot of confidence in the president,” he said. “He's moving forward.”

Gutiérrez and other Democrats have been outwardly confident that Hanen’s ruling will ultimately be overturned and the executive programs will eventually be adopted.

“About the only thing that will change is the date of eligibility,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said Wednesday.

Gutiérrez pointed out that the decision to block the pair of programs has not affected Obama's policy of focusing deportations on criminals and other high-priority cases.

“He's going to follow the ruling of the judge. He's going to follow the law, but that doesn't mean they're picking up Dreamers; that doesn't mean they're picking up American citizen children's parents,” he said. “That's just not happening anymore.”