By Seung Min Kim and Josh Gerstein
May 31, 2016
The Obama administration is asking to halt an extraordinary federal court order issued earlier this month that called on Justice Department lawyers to take ethics courses and ordered up names and addresses of tens of thousands of immigrants in the country without legal status.
The Justice Department filed the stay motion Tuesday morning. Brownsville, Texas-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen slapped the unusual sanctions against Obama administration attorneys earlier this month, arguing that lawyers misled him about key details of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which are now tied up at the Supreme Court.
In a statement, Justice spokesman Patrick Rodenbush dismissed Hanen’s view that administration attorneys acted in bad faith, and argued that the judge’s order “intrudes on core executive branch functions.” Other Obama administration officials warned that the order would have a “chilling effect” on immigrants trying to register with the federal government.
“The Department emphatically disagrees with the sanctions orders and will seek review of this matter in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Rodenbush said in a statement. Stay requests such as the one filed Tuesday are often a precursor to a move asking an appeals court to step in and halt a judge's actions.
In a stern order this month, Hanen determined that Justice Department lawyers were intentionally deceptive when they discussed in court how many work permits had been issued under Obama’s November 2014 immigration directive — calling the alleged misconduct “intentional, serious and material.”
Hanen is taking issue with more than 100,000 work permits that were issued for young undocumented immigrants between November 2014 and February 2015, when he issued his injunction that put Obama’s entire executive actions on hold. Those permits — part of an expansion of a 2012 program for young undocumented immigrants, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — were issued for three years, in line with Obama’s 2014 directive. The administration stopped issuing those three-year permits once Hanen issued his injunction, and worked to retrieve documents that were mistakenly issued after the order.
But the judge argued that the Justice Department engaged in months of deceptive cover-up, because the administration knew since November 2014 that the three-year documents were being issued for those 100,000 work permits but said in court that Obama’s new executive actions would not begin until February 2015. In return, Hanen demanded the names and other personal information of those immigrants holding the three-year work permits, which would remain sealed under court order.
The judge also ordered any DOJ lawyer who appears in a court — either state or federal — in one of the 26 states currently suing the Obama administration over immigration to take a legal ethics course every year.
Leon Rodriguez, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in court documents that Hanen’s order amounted to an “unprecedented breach” of the agency’s ability to “zealously guard the private and sensitive information” of millions of immigrants who submit personal information to the government.
“Based on my experience as director of USCIS, I believe the production of such information would have a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to seek a wide range of immigration benefits from USCIS and to provide all information necessary for USCIS to adjudicate their petitions, applications, and requests,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also argued that because of the complexity of the case, as well as “lack of precision in public reporting,” officials are already seeing a “high level of reported fear, concern and confusion among DACA recipients with regard to the disclosure of their information.”
Hanen asked for personal information only for immigrants who improperly had three-year work permits for a time and were living in one of the 26 states suing the Obama administration over Obama’s executive actions. That amounts to about 50,000 people, according to USCIS.
In its motion, the Justice Department also blasted the ethics sanctions called for by Hanen, arguing that the George W. Bush appointee’s order “far exceeds the bounds of appropriate remedies” for alleged misconduct. DOJ also added that Hanen’s conclusion that administration lawyers misled the judge “was reached without proper procedural protections and that lacks sufficient evidentiary support.”
DOJ estimated the cost of providing remedial training ordered by the court could be up to $7.8 million over five years.
“The government respectfully submits that the court has interfered with the attorney general’s executive authority both to determine who will appear on behalf of the United States in litigation … and to direct the attorneys under her supervision in the performance of their duties,” Justice Department lawyers wrote. “We therefore submit that the court’s May 19 order encroaches on central prerogatives of the executive branch as established by the Constitution and statutes, in violation of the separation of powers.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com