The Justice Department fired back at the Texas judge who ordered government attorneys to take ethics classes after he accused them of misleading him in a legal challenge to President Obama’s deportation amnesty — writing in court filings that the order was beyond the judge’s authority and citing a $1 million price tag for such training.
The DOJ on Tuesday asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, whose harshly critical order accused government attorneys of being “intentionally deceptive,” to put his own ruling on hold while they appeal. In the 16-page motion filed in federal court, the Justice Department outlined objections to both the training requirements and Judge Hanen’s order that by June 10 the Department of Homeland Security turn over identifying information for thousands of immigrants who entered the United States illegally and are now shielded from deportation under a government “deferred action” program.
Turning over the information about those who received deferred action would “irrevocably breach the confidence of these individuals,” DOJ attorneys wrote in their motion for a stay of Judge Hanen’s order.
Meanwhile, the sanctions ordered by the court against the Justice Department “far exceed the bounds of appropriate remedies for what this Court concluded were intentional misrepresentations,” the government continued.
The case stems from President Obama’s 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, which was meant to grant a proactive three-year stay of deportation and legal work permits to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants. Texas has led a group of 26 states in suing over the policy, arguing the proposal violated both federal law and overstepped the president’s constitutional powers.
The case was already high profile, with the Supreme Court hearing legal arguments regarding the amnesty decision earlier this year, but Judge Hanen’s blistering critique put government attorneys in the spotlight.
Judge Hanen, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, issued a scathing order on May 19, writing that DOJ attorneys knew the administration was approving amnesty applications but actively hid that information both from him and from the 26 states that had sued to stop the amnesty. Even after the court ordered the Obama administration to halt the program in February 2015, Judge Hanen said DHS defied the court and approved several thousand more applications. He went on to count at least four separate times the government’s attorneys misled him.
The May 19 order directed all Justice Department attorneys seeking to practice in any of the 26 states that sued over the amnesty to take at least three-hour of ethics training taught by someone outside the department.
On the legal challenge itself, the judge ordered that DHS turn over “all personal identifiers” and “all available contact information” for the thousands of immigrants who were granted deferred action under the policy for a three-year period.
The DOJ, which already requires attorneys to take annual ethics and professionalism courses, argued that Judge Hanen’s new ethics course requirement would result in direct costs and lost productivity equal to between $1 million and $1.5 million this year. The DOJ estimates the costs to send more than 3,000 attorneys to ethics classes could total between $5 million to $8 million over five years.
Government attorneys also resist turning over identifying information about those who received deferred action, writing that doing so “could undermine public trust in DHS’s commitment to protecting the confidential information contained in immigration files and will create a significant burden.”
Judge Hanen ordered the government to file a list of individuals who had been given the three-year deferred action under the 2014 policy and resided in the 26 states that had challenged the amnesty policy.
A declaration from Leon Rodriguez, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within DHS, was submitted along with the stay order Tuesday and indicated that while approximately 108,000 immigrants received deferred action under the plan, about 50,000 were found to be associated with addresses within the 26 states challenging the policy.
Government attorneys wrote that even though the information was asked to be turned over to the court under seal, “the production of sensitive personal information in such large quantities would be very likely to undermine individuals’ trust in DHS’s ability to maintain the confidentiality of personal information provided to it, a trust that is essential to its mission.”
Reviewing the information to turn over all relevant data would also be time consuming — taking an estimated 17,350 work hours to complete at a cost of more than $1 million.