Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asked a judge not to find him and other Obama administration officials in contempt after his agency recovered work permits mistakenly issued after the court halted a controversial immigration initiative.
Johnson said the government reclaimed all but 22 of the 2,500 offending permits and corrected federal computer databases to invalidate the rest, according to a report filed late Friday in federal court in Brownsville, Texas. Administration lawyers said the effort should prove Johnson and other top immigration officials have been sufficiently compliant to head off a contempt hearing set for later this month.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ordered President Barack Obama’s program halted until a trial can be held over a lawsuit by 26 states. Hanen has repeatedly chastised White House lawyers and immigration officials for their “cavalier attitude” about violating his order and accused them of dragging their feet.
Led by Texas, the states sued over Obama’s unilateral change to U.S. immigration policy, announced last November. The initiative is designed to bring as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows” by shielding them from deportation and providing them with three-year work permits.
To qualify for the program, immigrants must have resided in the U.S. for at least five years and be the parent of an American citizen, or have been brought here as children themselves. They must also pass a criminal background check.
Hanen, whose Brownsville courthouse sits a mile from the Mexican border, warned the administration he’ll find officials in contempt if he decides they intentionally misled him.
Hanen blocked the program after finding the administration skipped required rule-making procedures before putting its plan into effect. He put off weighing the states’ claim that Obama overstepped his constitutional authority until trial.
The White House argued it has authority to prioritize immigration resources however it sees fit, without the approval of Congress or the courts.
The administration has appealed Hanen’s temporary standstill order in a bid to start the program before the end of Obama’s second term. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments on overturning Hanen’s order July 10, but has yet to rule.
The states complain the Obama initiative’s work permits will entitle immigrants to a host of benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare. The states also claim they’ll be required to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in services that they can’t recover if the program is later outlawed.
Fifteen states have sided with the administration and said they’ll gain more in increased tax revenues from fully-employed immigrants than they’ll spend on services.
The case is Texas v. United States, 1:14-254, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).