By Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker on Feb. 17, 2015
WASHINGTON — Just one day before undocumented immigrants were set to begin applying for work permits and legal protections, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it would delay carrying out President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, saying a federal judge’s last-minute ruling had tied the White House’s hands.
Jeh C. Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, vowed to appeal the court ruling, which said that the president had not followed proper legal procedures in instituting his program. But Mr. Johnson said the department would comply with it by suspending plans to begin accepting applications from an expanded group of illegal immigrants on Wednesday.
“The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts and even other courts have said that our actions are well within our legal authority,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement. “Our actions will also benefit the economy and promote law enforcement. We fully expect to ultimately prevail in the courts.” Mr. Johnson said the department would be “fully prepared” to carry out the president’s orders when that happens. The executive orders would extend temporary work permits to as many as five million people and protect them from the threat of deportation.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, Texas, ordered a halt to those executive actions late Monday, ruling that a coalition of 26 states had standing to challenge them. In his statement, Mr. Johnson said he strongly disagreed with the judge’s decision to issue a temporary injunction against the programs.
“The Department of Justice will appeal that temporary injunction; in the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson’s decision comes as Republicans on Capitol Hill seized on the judge’s ruling, saying it bolsters their fight to block the president’s actions by holding up funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
Republican lawmakers could argue that the federal courts will end up doing what the party is trying to do with its showdown over Homeland Security funding, potentially freeing Congress to fund the department without restrictions. But in a series of coordinated statements on Tuesday, Republican leaders in Congress and officials at conservative organizations showed no sign of relenting.
They said they would continue to hold up the money unless the Homeland Security funding bill included language that would stop the immigration programs. Republicans called on Senate Democrats to end a filibuster of that legislation.
“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,’” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said in a statement. “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.”
Jenny Beth Martin, a founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said in a similar statement that the ruling “points out the lawless, overreaching nature of President Obama’s actions.”
“We’re hopeful this will be a wake-up call to Senate Democrats,” she added, “and that they will allow a vote on funding for critical D.H.S. funding as soon as they return from the recess.”
Senate Democrats have used a procedural maneuver three times to prevent their Republican colleagues from taking up the spending bill that the House sent last month. The House legislation would fund the Department of Homeland Security, but it would also undo legal protections for as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children — something Democrats, and some Republicans, say is unacceptable.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, said court action should free Republicans of their political obligation to fight over Homeland Security funding.
“It’s perfectly appropriate to take this issue to court, but it is completely unacceptable for Republicans to hold up funding for the Department of Homeland Security while the case wends its way through the legal system,” he said after the judge’s ruling.
But even as Republicans issued statements vowing to continue the fight, lawmakers and aides scrambled to game out the longer-term implications of the court ruling for the political fight to fund the Homeland Security agency, which will run out of money on Feb. 27.
Shortly after taking over as majority leader, Mr. McConnell promised that there would be no government shutdowns. Some political operatives on Tuesday speculated that the judge’s ruling could provide a way out of the legislative stalemate over Homeland Security funding by allowing Republicans to argue that the fight is best left to the courts.
At the same time, the ruling could also embolden the most hard-line Republicans, giving them the confidence to double down on their legislative strategy, now that they believe the courts are also on their side.
In the meantime, Senate Democrats remained united on Tuesday, with leadership aides signaling that the conference will still oppose any Homeland Security funding measure that would block the president’s immigration programs and will insist on a “clean” funding bill without such language.
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, has expressed misgivings about the president’s executive actions. But Jonathan Kott, a spokesman for Mr. Manchin, said the senator “still believes that we should pass a clean D.H.S. funding bill.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” the House speaker, John A. Boehner, signaled that he was willing to let funding for the agency lapse — allowing for a shutdown — if the Senate was unable to pass the House’s bill.
In a discussion among conservative lawmakers last week hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the legislators were divided over how an injunction would affect their political calculation. Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, said a ruling would allow him to support a “clean” spending bill.
“My objection to the D.H.S. funding is I don’t want to do anything that gives the president the ability to fund executive amnesty,” he said. “If a court issues an injunction, then I think it would be appropriate for us to consider the possibility of funding appropriations during the pendency of the injunction.”
But other conservative members disagreed. Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, said that he did not trust the administration to enforce the existing law — and that he would still support the House’s legislative solution.
“Tell me why I should trust this president and attorney general to uphold the rule of law. Absolutely not,” Mr. Gosar said. “I want to make sure that there is no way that he can actually get around from A to Z in embracing what he’s done.”
And Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, similarly said that any court ruling would simply allow Republicans to further commit to their existing strategy. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the Senate Democrats to actually allow our bill to move forward,” he said. “There should be no concerns for them if the court is saying this is not going to be implemented.”
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