The order is just a preliminary injunction, but suggests a tough legal battle ahead.
In a Republican-led lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 states, Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued a preliminary injunction stopping the Obama administration from implementing the president's recently announced executive actions to confer temporary lawful presence and 3-year work permits to more than 4 million undocumented immigrants who are considered a low priority for deportation.
Hanen's 123-page ruling found that the states have "standing" to sue and suggests that he will probably agree with their argument on the merits. The appeals court and perhaps the Supreme Court will have the ultimate say in the matter.
The ruling only stops Obama's recent deportation relief initiatives announced in November 2014.
The programs put on hold are the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. Both announced in November 2014, the DACA expansion was scheduled to start taking applications on Feb. 18 while DAPA applications were set to begin on May 20. Neither can move forward until the injunction is lifted by a higher court or the case is resolved on the merits.
Numerous immigration law experts have said Obama's executive actions fall within the boundaries of his executive authority. The Supreme Court has affirmed broad executive authority when it comes to immigration enforcement, and prior presidents like George H. W. Bush have taken similar steps to protect categories of undocumented immigrants in the past. The current legal dispute concerns actions by Obama that are unprecedented in scale.
The order doesn't affect the 2012 program to protect DREAMers.
The order does not affect the existing DACA program, which has currently shielded hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. as children, commonly called DREAMers.
It also doesn't mean the Obama administration has lost the fight over the new actions — far from it. Immigrant rights groups are downplaying the judge's decision, telling their members to prepare to apply for the expanded programs because they expect the ruling to be overturned by higher courts.
In a message to members, United We Dream declared, "Don't be worried" and portrayed the lawsuit a stunt by Republicans.
"We are confident that the higher courts will reject this lawsuit since it has no legal merit and only wastes taxpayer dollars & attack immigrant youth, workers & families," the group wrote. "This decision only delays the application process."
The judge's move is a wrinkle in the DHS funding fight ahead of a possible shutdown.
The judge's decision could affect the political battle over immigration. To counter Obama's immigration move, congressional Republicans have been blocking funding for the Department of Homeland Security. But that legislative has been fought to nearly a draw, with Senate Democrats filibustering and the White House promising a veto. Republican leaders might come to see the court victory as the off-ramp they've been looking for from the DHS funding fight.
For now, though, there's no sign of that, and leaders are steeling for a partial shutdown on Feb. 27. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded to the court order with statements calling on Senate Democrats to drop their filibuster of House-approved legislation that funds DHS while reversing Obama's new executive actions.
"We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process," Boehner said. "Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department."
The judge's decision was not a surprise — he has strongly criticized the Obama administration on immigration.
The decision was not a surprise to those following the case because Hanen has previously chastised the Obama administration's immigration enforcement methods as too lenient and flouting the rule of law. In other words Texas Republicans landed the case before their dream judge.
The Obama administration said it intends to appeal the order to the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case could potentially rocket to the Supreme Court.
"The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C. have determined that the President’s actions are well within his legal authority," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday. "Top law enforcement officials, along with state and local leaders across the country, have emphasized that these policies will also benefit the economy and help keep communities safe. The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision."
The judge's order can be read below.