- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson won’t be hauled into federal court to explain his department’s botched execution of President Obama’s deportation amnesty program, but the judge said Tuesday he still doesn’t consider the issue settled.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen had threatened to force Mr. Johnson to appear personally later this month to explain why thousands of tentative three-year amnesty applications were approved in violation of the court’s injunction, but after Homeland Security officials managed to recapture almost all of the erroneous amnesty cards, Judge Hanen relaxed his stance.

Still, the judge said the hearing will go ahead as slated on Aug. 19, and Mr. Johnson’s lawyers will have to be ready to explain why they haven’t been able to solve the problem completely yet.

“The court does not consider mere substantial compliance, after an order has been in place for six months, to be acceptable and neither should counsel,” Judge Hanen wrote in his order Tuesday.

Homeland Security officials have discovered three different sets of three-year amnesty applications approved or sent out even after Judge Hanen’s Feb. 16 order halting the program. The first totaled about 2,100, the second included about 500, and the final set, just revealed late last month, included about 50 more.

Under pressure from Judge Hanen, the department scrambled to rescind the 2,600 approvals from the first two sets, and managed to recover more than 99 percent of them, or to get assurances from the illegal immigrants that they were inadvertently lost or destroyed and couldn’t be returned.

In 22 cases, the illegal immigrants refused all overtures, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revoked their amnesties, returning them to full illegal status — though the department does not appear to be making moves to deport them.

Homeland Security said it was pleased with the judge’s new stance.

“USCIS has taken extensive steps to collect the invalid work permits and to issue those affected new work documents, which is the subject of the hearing,” the department said in a statement.

Mr. Obama announced the new amnesty in November, expanding his 2012 amnesty for young, so-called Dreamers by allowing illegal immigrant parents to apply, and extending the time of freedom from deportation from two to three years.

But the program has become a legal morass for the administration.

Judge Hanen has ruled that the expansion is likely illegal and issued an injunction in February. The administration then admitted it had approved more than 100,000 three-year applications for Dreamers under a mixture of the 2012 and 2014 policies before the injunction, and then later admitted it had approved several thousand more three-year applications even after the injunction.

The pre-injunction amnesties are still the subject of negotiations between Homeland Security and Texas, which brought the lawsuit to halt the new amnesty.

Texas suggests all of those three-year amnesties should also be invalidated, while the department says it was always upfront that those applications would be processed as early as last November, so it didn’t do anything wrong.

The post-injunction amnesties have been the bigger headache, with the judge, clearly irked, saying the Obama administration was “cavalier” in its efforts to fix it.

Judge Hanen had said he would haul Mr. Johnson and his top immigration lieutenants personally into court unless the matter was cleaned up.

His new order Tuesday takes a softer approach, releasing the secretary and his agency chiefs from appearing, though saying he “remains concerned” about the remaining three-year cases.

The injunction applies nationwide, halting the entire expansion of the amnesty, which the administration had predicted could include as many as 4 million more illegal immigrants.

The Justice Department appealed the injunction and already lost the first round of arguments. A broader decision on the appeal is expected any day.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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