The Obama administration accused a federal judge Tuesday of sowing “fear and confusion” among illegal immigrants, potentially scaring them away from signing up for President Obama’s deportation amnesty by demanding immigration officials submit names of tens of thousands of migrants who’ve already enrolled.
Justice Department lawyers also asked Judge Andrew S. Hanen not to force thousands of attorneys to take remedial ethics classes — an order the judge issued two weeks ago after he concluded that the administration intentionally and repeatedly misled him by implementing part of the amnesty, even as they assured the court it wasn’t in operation yet.
“The sanctions ordered by the court far exceed the bounds of appropriate remedies for what this court concluded were intentional misrepresentations, a conclusion that was reached without proper procedural protections and that lacks sufficient evidentiary support,” the Justice Department lawyers wrote in asking for a stay.
Judge Hanen scheduled a hearing for June 7 to let the Justice Department make its case, in what’s become a nasty court battle between himself and the administration. They’ve been at odds since soon after Mr. Obama announced his expanded amnesty for illegal immigrant parents in November 2014.
Judge Hanen has ruled the amnesty illegal, and issued an injunction in February 2015. But the administration repeatedly broke that order, approving thousands of three-year work permits after the fact. Lawyers admitted that more than 100,000 applications for three-year permits were approved between February and March, despite lawyers telling the judge no part of the amnesty was in operation.
The judge has ordered the administration to file a secret document with the court containing the names of illegal immigrants who live in 26 states that sued to stop the amnesty. The document is to remain under seal.
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Immigrant rights activists were enraged by the order, and the Obama administration has vowed to appeal.
In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that botched the applications in the first place, says it fears the brouhaha will prevent other illegal immigrants from signing up for a two-year amnesty for Dreamers that Mr. Obama announced in 2012, and which remains in effect even as the broader three-year amnesty has been halted.
Leon Rodriguez, chief of the agency, admitted there is no legal barrier to turning the information over, but he said it would dent their own promises they made to illegal immigrants to keep their information secret.
“The essential protection that the [personal information] be filed under seal (which, as noted, does not sufficiently ameliorate the harm to USCIS) does not provide assurance of further protections and, to the contrary, invites fear and speculation that wide dissemination without safeguards may be forthcoming,” Mr. Rodriguez said in a declaration filed with Judge Hanen.
Mr. Rodriguez also claimed poverty, saying his agency is strapped for cash, and the $1.1 million it would cost to produce the names of 50,000 illegal immigrants would spawn “backlogs” in other services for legal immigrants.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that was a lame excuse for an agency that sets its own fees, doesn’t rely on taxpayers’ money and has “socked away $1.2 billion that it had skimmed off the fees paid by legal immigrants.”
“They are still sitting on this money. It’s outrageous enough that they diverted this huge sum of money from legal immigrants, but to now cry poverty is just insulting our intelligence,” she told The Washington Times.
She said the information should be easy to produce, and if it’s as difficult as Mr. Rodriguez says, then he’s got bigger problems with his agency than botching the amnesty. And she said worrying about illegal immigrants’ privacy rights was misguided.
“People who are here illegally have no right or expectation to shield that fact from any branch of government,” she said. “For a long time, the Obama administration and its allied advocacy groups have been trying to wall off this information and create new privacy rights in order to allow illegal aliens to pretend they are here legally, and to prevent anyone from detecting their illegal presence. I am glad to see that a federal judge has caught on to this, and hope that forcing the administration to comply with his reasonable information request will put a stop to this absurd ‘privacy’ movement.”
The legal battle was already a high-profile affair, with the Supreme Court expected to rule by the end of June on whether the amnesty itself is illegal. But Judge Hanen’s blistering critique put government attorneys in the spotlight.
The Justice Department, which already requires attorneys to take annual ethics and professionalism courses, argued the judge’s new order would force 3,000 lawyers at department headquarters in Washington to take redundant classes.
Lee J. Lofthus, the assistant attorney general for administration, said lawyers already take two hours of class on professional responsibility within the department, an hour on government ethics and an hour on sexual harassment and nondiscrimination training every year.
He said the remedial ethics classes Judge Hanen ordered would require four hours per lawyer and would total up to $1.5 million this year and up to $7.8 million over five years in both costs and lost time on the job.