The administration processed about 100,000 applications for amnesty for so-called Dreamers under some of the expanded rules President Obama announced last year, lawyers told a Texas judge late Tuesday, in a move that could complicate their claim that they have halted all action under the amnesty.
Mr. Obama’s Nov. 20 announcement offered a number of different benefits to illegal immigrants, including expanding eligibility for his 2012 amnesty for Dreamers and boosting the amount of time he was granting an amnesty form deportation and permits for legal work from two years to three years.
While the administration hadn’t begun collecting applications under the expanded eligibility, it had awarded tens of thousands of three-year permits to applicants who had qualified as Dreamers under the original rules from 2012.
Federal District Judge Andrew S. Hanen last month halted the new amnesty, ruling that it likely violated federal law, but it was unclear what that meant for the three-year adjustment.
The Justice Department, in an advisory to Judge Hanen late Tuesday, said they didn’t think they needed to revoke the three-year authorization, saying they didn’t think the judge intended to halt that part of the amnesty.
They said the issued the advisory to the court to clear up “any potential confusion.”
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“It is defendants’ understanding that the preliminary injunction does not require them to take affirmative steps to alter the status quo as it existed before the court’s order,” the administration told Judge Hanen. “For this reason, defendants do not understand the order to require defendants to take affirmative steps to revoke three-year periods of deferred action and work authorization.”
In the two weeks since Judge Hanen enjoined the amnesty, The Washington Times had repeatedly asked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with approving the amnesty applications, how it was handling the two-year/three-year situation. The agency had brushed those questions aside.
Mr. Obama announced his first amnesty in June 2012 and began accepting applications that August. Those first grants were good for two years, but were renewable, and the first renewals were issued late last summer.
After the president’s November policy changes, both new and renewal applications that were pending and that were filed between then and Feb. 16 were granted three-year amnesties.
Judge Hanen’s injunction only applied to the November 2014 amnesty, not the 2012 amnesty — though both were created the same way by a presidential executive action, not by act of Congress.
Earlier Tuesday, Texas and the 25 fellow states that successfully sued to stop the amnesty filed their own court papers urging the judge to keep his injunction in place nationwide.
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They said Mr. Obama is still free to refuse to deport illegal immigrants under Judge Hanen’s order, but he cannot — and should not be allowed to — proactively grant future legal status and work permits.
“In short, there is no emergency need to institute this sweeping new program, and the stay can be denied for that reason alone,” Texas said.
Texas lawyers also said Mr. Obama’s own words continue to prove he’s acted outside the law. Last week the president told a Spanish-language television audience his moves “expanded my authorities” and said agents who don’t follow his new guidelines will be punished.
The states said that made clear the president views his policies as binding directives that leave agents and officers no discretion — undercutting Mr. Obama’s claim that he is relying on prosecutorial discretion and that not all illegal immigrants who qualify will be granted status.