The Obama administration still hasn’t fully rescinded the 2,000 three-year amnesties it wrongly issued four months ago in violation of a court order, government lawyers recently admitted in court, spurring a stern response from the judge who said the matter must be cleaned up by the end of July — or else.
It’s the latest black eye for President Obama’s amnesty policy and the immigration agency charged with carrying it out. The agency bungled the rollout, issuing three-year amnesties even while assuring the judge it had stopped all action hours after a Feb. 16 injunction.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for overseeing the amnesty, said it’s trying to round up all of the permits, sending out two-year amnesties and pleading with the illegal immigrants to return the three-year cards.
But they are having trouble getting some of the lucky recipients to send them back.
“USCIS is carefully tracking the returns of the three-year EAD cards, and many have been returned within weeks,” the agency said in a statement to The Washington Times. “USCIS continues to take steps to collect the remaining three-year EAD cards.”
The agency didn’t answer specific questions about how many remain outstanding, nor about what methods will be used to claw back the ones that folks refuse to return.
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The three-year deportation amnesty was part of Mr. Obama’s November 2014 announcement when he proposed granting a three-year tentative deportation amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. It was to be a massive expansion, in both eligibility and duration, of his 2012 amnesty, which granted two-year amnesty to so-called Dreamers.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen blocked the expansion in February, issuing an injunction that remains in place even as the administration appeals it to a higher court. The next hearing on that appeal is due July 10.
But Judge Hanen was shocked to learn that USCIS issued the 2,000 three-year amnesties even after he’d issued his injunction.
“I expect you to resolve the 2,000; I’m shocked that you haven’t,” Judge Hanen told the Justice Department at a hearing last week, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “If they’re not resolved by July 31, I’m going to have to figure out what action to take.”
Homeland Security says it’s changed the duration of the work permits from three years to two years in its computer systems, but getting the cards returned from the illegal immigrants themselves is tougher.
The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the lawsuit challenging the amnesty and who won the February injunction against the policy, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the outstanding permits.
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Josh Blackman, an assistant professor at the South Texas College of Law, who has filed briefs in the case opposing the Obama administration’s claims, said he believes the administration is trying to comply in good faith with Judge Hanen’s order, but USCIS’s difficulties show how difficult managing the full amnesty would be.
“The entire nature of this case was that agents were given a free rein to approve as many applications as possible. DHS can’t keep track of its own agents and who’s being approved for deferrals and work authorization,” he said.
Mr. Obama announced the policy in order to circumvent Congress, which is moving the other direction away from legalization and toward a crackdown on most illegal immigrants.
He said those that qualify — as many as 5 million illegal immigrants — could earn a two-year stay of deportation and a work permit, which would usually qualify them for Social Security numbers, which they can use to access some other benefits, including tax credits.
Judge Hanen ruled on Feb. 16 that Mr. Obama didn’t follow the law in announcing his policy because it’s a major change, and under federal law those must be put out for public notice and comment. Judge Hanen said he didn’t have to address the major constitutional issues of whether Mr. Obama stole power that belongs to Congress, though he could still reach those questions should his injunction be overturned.
Between Nov. 20, when Mr. Obama announced his policy, and the Feb. 16 injunction, Homeland Security issued 108,000 three-year permits. Their legality is questionable and Texas and the Obama administration are arguing over how to handle them.
Even after the Feb. 16 injunction, and even as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was assuring Congress no permits were being issued, his department did issue 2,000 more three-year permits — something all sides agree was illegal.