WASHINGTON — Just one day before unauthorized immigrants were set to begin applying for work permits and legal protections, the administration announced Tuesday that it would delay carrying out President Barack 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 Johnson said the department would comply with it by suspending plans to begin accepting applications from an expanded group of immigrants Wednesday.
“The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts and even other courts have said that our actions are well within our legal authority,” 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.”
Johnson said the department would be “fully prepared” to carry out the president’s orders when that happens. The orders would extend temporary work permits to as many as 5 million people and protect them from the threat of deportation.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen of U.S. 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. 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,” he said.
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 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,’” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the Senate 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.”
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 5 million unauthorized immigrants, including children.
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. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said a ruling would allow him to support a “clean” spending bill. “My objection to the DHS 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.”