A decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California to put several deportation cases on hold in light of Obama administration immigration directives was criticized Thursday by two senior Republican lawmakers who said the court ruling was an "overreach of its authority."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano to make clear to the court that the administration will enforce immigration laws, including the deportation of removable illegal and criminal immigrants who lose their cases in the federal court of appeals.
"The Ninth Circuit's decision to put several deportation cases on hold is an overreach of judicial authority and shows the inherent danger in this administration's backdoor amnesty policies," they wrote in a letter. "Instead of deciding these cases under the law of the land, the Ninth Circuit has asked the Obama administration whether it intends to grant the illegal immigrants amnesty under the prosecutorial discretion initiative announced last year."
Mr. Smith and Mr. Grassley said the order appears to be the court's attempt to suspend its everyday review of immigration cases because of the administration's plans to close tens of thousands of cases for the 300,000 aliens who are in removal proceedings.
"The Ninth Circuit has acted beyond the bounds of its judicial role and is inserting itself into an area - prosecutorial discretion - reserved solely to the executive branch," they said.
The lawmakers said that in responding to the court, the administration will be required to reveal whether it intends to "manipulate our legal system and waste taxpayer dollars, as part of its efforts to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants."
"Your response to the Ninth Circuit's order must clearly and unequivocally indicate that the government will enforce the immigration laws, including promptly deporting all removable aliens who lose their cases in the federal courts of appeals," they said.
"If the administration responds to the Ninth Circuit orders by indicating that the illegal and other removable aliens will be granted relief via amnesty, then it must explain to the American people what that answer means for the integrity of our legal system and why their tax dollars are being spent on prosecutions the Obama administration has no intention of enforcing with deportation."
The lawmakers said they were "seriously concerned" the court's order ignores the rule of law and "confounds constitutional principles."
Last month, the 9th Circuit put five deportation cases on hold and asked the government how the illegal immigrants in those cases fit into the administration's immigration enforcement priorities outlined in memos released in June and November.
Those memos, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, showed that the administration had begun to ratchet up the pressure on Congress to pass controversial immigration-reform measures by relaxing its deportation protocol. A June 17 memo said ICE agents should exercise "discretion" when deciding who can stay and who must go, while a Nov. 17 memo provided further guidance to ICE attorneys.
The memos suggested that special consideration should be given to military veterans, those who have graduated high school or are pursuing college degrees, the elderly, minors, pregnant women and those with serious health conditions. An immigrant's "ties and contributions to the community" and his "ties to the home country and the conditions in the country" should also be weighed, according to the memos.
They also instructed agents to consider a person's criminal history, as well as whether he is a national security threat or public safety concern, before making a decision on deportation.
"No previous administration, irrespective of political party, has chosen, en masse, to place restrictions on the type of removable aliens that may be processed (or, in this case, not processed) for removal before the immigration courts," the lawmakers said.
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