A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied the government's request to allow President Obama's executive actions on immigration to move forward, preventing an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants from receiving work permits and being shielded from deportation.
Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote that the court was denying the motion for a stay because "the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction." The court also denied the government's request that the appeals court limit the injunction to Texas or the plaintiff states.
The decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals kept in place an earlier ruling by Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas placing an injunction on the Obama administration's immigration policies. In two executive actions issued in November 2014, Obama sought to protect law-abiding immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years from deportation. The intention, as he said at the time, was to make sure the government focused on deporting "felons, not families."
Republicans decried these actions as a de facto amnesty and a blatant abuse of executive power, and vowed to fight them in court. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of the leading Republican voices against the programs, told BuzzFeed News in November that Obama's action "eviscerates the law, it erodes the moral authority of the law."
The U.S. government appealed Hanen's decision to the 5th Circuit, as well as asking the appeals court to stay the injunction during the time the 5th Circuit considered the appeal. The panel denied the stay in a 2-1 vote, with Judge Stephen A. Higginson dissenting.
Patrick Rodenbush, a Justice Department spokesperson, said in a statement that the government was disappointed in the decision but would continue fighting the case. The Obama administration's immigration policies are "consistent with laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws," Rodenbush said.
Immigration advocates condemned the court's decision, but said they still expect the relief programs to prevail in the end. "We think this is an unsound decision, and unfortunately a very harmful one for our economy, our community, and all the families that would benefit from the programs," Melissa Keaney, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, told BuzzFeed News. "Obviously we're very disappointed about it, but we're also undeterred."
The lawsuit was filed by Texas in conjunction with 25 other states, which are arguing that the deportation relief programs are an executive overreach that will cause the states to suffer harm. The states say the executive actions will encourage new waves of unauthorized immigration and force the states to spend money on public services for the newly protected immigrants.
The U.S. government can now choose whether to appeal this decision on the stay request to the Supreme Court.
Supporters of the executive actions counter that allowing millions of immigrants to work legally would have widespread economic benefits. The Center for American Progress estimates that one of the programs, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), would create more than 20,538 jobs per year over the next 10 years and lead to an increase of $164 in the GDP.
DAPA would apply to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have lived in the country for at least 5 years. The administration's second executive action was an expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
These programs do not grant immigrants legal status. Instead, they instruct federal immigration agents not to deport people who qualify, and allow the immigrants to apply for permits to work legally in the United States.
Were it not for the Texas court's decision to block the programs, immigrants would have been able to begin applying for DAPA on May 19. Immigrant advocates organized nationwide demonstrations that day to protest the court's decision.