*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Gov. Greg Abbott hailed a federal judge's decision Monday to halt President Obama’s executive action on immigration — a decision that gave the state of Texas an initial victory in its battle against what state leaders call federal overreach.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville ruled that the Obama administration did not "comply with the Administrative Procedure Act." The Administrative Procedure Act governs the way regulations are made and how much input the public has.
Obama's policy seeks to give as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants — including some 1.46 million in Texas — a work permit and temporary relief from deportation.
Abbott, the state's former attorney general, filed the lawsuit in December before being sworn in as governor. Texas is part of a 26-state coalition that challenged the executive action, which was announced in November.
Abbott accused the president of violating several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including one that gives Congress jurisdiction over immigration laws. Abbott also argued that Texas would be irreparably harmed by the action. He cited as proof last summer’s surge of undocumented immigrants from Central America who entered Texas illegally through the Rio Grande Valley.
"President Obama abdicated his responsibility to uphold the United States Constitution when he attempted to circumvent the laws passed by Congress via executive fiat," Abbott said in a statement, "and Judge Hanen’s decision rightly stops the President’s overreach in its tracks."
"This decision is a victory for the rule of law in America and a crucial first step in reining in President Obama's lawlessness," current Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday night in a statement. "This injunction makes it clear that the President is not a law unto himself, and must work with our elected leaders in Congress and satisfy the courts in a fashion our Founding Fathers envisioned.”
To several, Hanen’s decision didn’t come as a surprise. The judge, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, wrote in 2013 that the Department of Homeland Security wasn’t enforcing immigration laws and instead “[breaking] them” by reuniting undocumented children with their parents instead of having the families deported or arrested, Bloomberg reported last year.
Early Tuesday morning, the White House stood by the president’s action and said the U.S. Department of Justice would appeal to a higher 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 officials said in a statement.
“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, common-sense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”
And immigrants rights groups said they remain undaunted by the ruling, which they said they expected all along.
“Immigrant groups and our allies around the nation are moving forward regardless of this Texas judge’s ruling,” the Alliance for Citizenship said in a statement. “Immigrant families and workers who fought for this great victory will continue to get ready to register for DACA and DAPA. This is the best chance for millions of hardworking immigrants to finally have the opportunity to live, work, and stay in America with their families.”
Before the ruling was announced, David Leopold, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he expected the Obama administration to make an emergency appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals if Hanen did not rule in its favor. The federal government would also probably ask Hanen to stay his own order while the higher courts decide the case, Leopold added.
He had said that such a decision from Hanen wasn't necessarily the death knell for the executive action.
"He’s not the last word," Leopold said. "That is going to come from a much higher court whether it's the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court."
Leopold said he expected that the litigation would slow enrollment, even if a higher court makes the ultimate decision. He added that scrutiny of the program might reduce the number of participants.
"I think [the plaintiffs] know they can’t win this case. I think what they’re trying to do is very cynically throw pizza at the wall and see what sticks," he said.