President Obama’s lawyers admitted to a federal judge late Thursday that they had broken the court’s injunction halting the administration’s new deportation amnesty, issuing thousands of work permits even after Judge Andrew S. Hanen had ordered the program stopped.
The stunning admission, filed just before midnight in Texas, where the case is being heard, is the latest misstep for the administration’s lawyers, who are facing possible sanctions by Judge Hanen for their continued problems in arguing the case.
The Justice Department lawyers said Homeland Security, which is the defendant in the case, told them Wednesday that an immigration agency had approved about 2,000 applications for three-year work permits, which was part of Mr. Obama’s new amnesty, even after Judge Hanen issued his Feb. 16 injunction halting the entire program.
Top Obama officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, had repeatedly assured Congress they had fully halted the program and were complying with the order.
“The government sincerely regrets these circumstances and is taking immediate steps to remedy these erroneous three-year terms,” the administration lawyers said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was “remarkable” that the administration kept approving some applications.
“The last time I checked, injunctions are not mere suggestions. They are not optional,” the Iowa Republican said. “This disregard for the court’s action is unacceptable and disturbing, especially after Secretary Johnson’s assurances that his agency would honor the injunction.”
He has written a letter to Mr. Johnson asking the department to turn over all of its communications about implementing the three-year policy.
The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, but Homeland Security officials said Mr. Johnson has asked his department’s inspector general to investigate what went wrong.
The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday morning but Homeland Security officials said Mr. Johnson has asked his department’s inspector general to investigate what went wrong.
Homeland Security officials also said they’re going back to try to revoke the three-year permits and reissue them as two-year permits instead.
Judge Hanen had already been pondering whether to sanction the Justice Department lawyers after they admitted to misleading him — they said inadvertently — on more than 100,000 amnesty applications approved between the Nov. 20 date Mr. Obama announced the new program and the Feb. 16 date the judge issued his injunction.
Thursday’s filing, however, appears to be worse, since it breaks a direct injunction, and comes two months after the judge began to scrutinize the administration lawyers’ behavior after that first instance.
The lawyers also had to correct a previous number they’d given the court, when they’d said just 55 applications had been approved in the immediate aftermath of the injunction. The actual number, the lawyers admitted, was 72. They blamed “additional errors.”
The Justice Department said it learned Wednesday that Homeland Security had approved the applications. The lawyers waited until nearly midnight Thursday to inform Judge Hanen.
In their filing, they said they are still trying to gather information about what went wrong, and promised to update Judge Hanen by May 15.
Last week the administration turned over documents related to how it got the initial processing of the more than 100,000 applications wrong — but told the judge that neither he nor the state of Texas, the chief plaintiff that sued to stop the amnesty, should be allowed to look at the documents because they are privileged communications.
Mr. Obama announced the amnesty last year, expanding on a previous amnesty for Dreamers, or young adult illegal immigrants. That initial program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, granted Dreamers a two-year stay of deportation and work permits allowing them legally to take jobs in the U.S.
Under the expansion, illegal immigrant parents of American citizens and green card holders were allowed to apply for the same program, under a program known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA. The two-year period was also expanded to three years for both Dreamers and the expanded pool of parents.
Those three-year permits were what landed the government in trouble. The Homeland Security Department began approving DACA applicants for three-year work permits almost immediately, though it didn’t approve any DAPA applications.
Judge Hanen said he was surprised that the three-year applications were being approved, since he thought the administration had told him none of the new program was in effect. Justice Department lawyers said they hadn’t mean to mislead him, and had included in their briefing papers documents showing that the three-year approvals were to take effect last November — but apologized nonetheless for leaving the wrong impression.