HOUSTON — A federal judge late Tuesday kept a temporary hold on President Barack Obama's executive action that sought to shield millions of immigrants from deportation, rejecting a U.S. Department of Justice request that he allow the action to go ahead.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville refused to lift the preliminary injunction he granted on Feb. 16 at the request of 26 states who oppose Obama's action.
Hanen's latest ruling confirms the status quo — that the Obama administration is temporarily barred from allowing as many as 5 million people in the U.S. illegally to remain.
The Justice Department has appealed to a higher court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, to lift Hanen's injunction. The appeals court was scheduled to hear arguments on whether the injunction should be lifted on April 17.
In his order Tuesday denying the government's request, Hanen said the government hasn't "shown any credible reason for why this Directive necessitates immediate implementation."
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
The coalition of 26 states filed the lawsuit to overturn Obama's executive actions, which would spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. The states, led by Texas, argue that the action is unconstitutional and would force them to invest more in law enforcement, health care and education.
Justice Department attorneys have argued that keeping the temporary hold harms "the interests of the public and of third parties who will be deprived of significant law enforcement and humanitarian benefits of prompt implementation" of the president's immigration action.
Obama announced the executive orders in November, saying a lack of action by Congress forced him to make sweeping changes to immigration rules on his own.
Before ruling on the injunction, Hanen said he first wanted to hear from federal prosecutors about allegations that the U.S. government had misled him about the implementation of part of the immigration plan.
The first of Obama's orders — to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — had been set to take effect Feb. 18. The other major part would extend deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for several years. That provision was slated to begin on May 19.
Hanen issued his initial injunction believing that neither of those orders had taken effect. About a month later, the Justice Department confirmed that more than 108,000 people had already received three-year reprieves from deportation and work permits, but DOJ attorneys insisted the moves were made under 2012 guidelines that weren't blocked by the injunction. The DOJ apologized for any confusion, but Hanen seemed unconvinced during a hearing last month and threatened to sanction the attorneys.
He wrote Tuesday that while the federal government had been "misleading" on the subject, he would not immediately apply sanctions against the government, saying to do so would not be "in the interests of justice or in the best interest of this country" because the issue was of national importance and the outcome will affect millions of people.
"The parties' arguments should be decided on their relative merits according to the law, not clouded by outside allegations that may or may not bear on the ultimate issues in this lawsuit," Hanen wrote.