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New Front Opens In Ongoing Legal Battle Over Obama’s Immigration Actions

29 Aug

By Tierney Sneed

In a not unexpected move, immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday taking on a federal court ruling that blocked President Obama’s 2014 executive actions providing deportation relief to certain undocumented immigrants.

The lawsuit argues that the federal judge who blocked the implementation of the programs — Andrew Hanen, a conservative in southern Texas — did not have the authority to impose a nationwide injunction. Because the Supreme Court was evenly divided when Hanen’s order was appealed to the eight justices, the new lawsuit could open the door for Obama’s actions to go back into effect for at least some undocumented immigrants living in other parts of the country.

The legal challenge was brought by Batalla Vidal, a 25-year-old undocumented man living in New York who was brought to the states from Mexico when he was seven. Vidal was eligible for the 2012 executive action that granted deportation relief to some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and applied for the program, known as DACA, in November 2014. Not long after, the Obama administration announced it was expanding the DACA program so it covered recipients for three years instead of two. Vidal’s three-year authorization, however, was revoked because of Hanen’s injunction on the expanded program. Vidal — who is seeking a medical assistant’s degree — is now suing immigration officials to restore his three-year authorization.

“[The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] erred in revoking Mr. Batalla Vidal’s employment authorization based on an overly broad injunction entered by a court in Texas that lacked jurisdiction to reach New York residents,” the lawsuit said.

Vidal is being represented by attorneys at the National Immigration Law Center, as well as the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School and the group Make The Road New York.

The move is the latest legal volley in what has been years of litigation around the Obama administration’s attempts, in the face of united congressional Republican opposition, to deal with the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Texas with 25 other states brought a lawsuit against Obama’s 2014 action, which prompted Hanen’s injunction. Hanen’s ruling was upheld by the very conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Department of Justice appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which last spring split 4-4 on ideological lines on the injunction’s legality. A tie vote defers back to the appeals court’s decision but has no national precedent, which means courts in other circuits are not bound by it. Vidal’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York, which lies in the Second Circuit.

Vidal is arguing that Hanen’s injunction should not apply to him because of where he lives. But if Vidal is successful, his case has the potential to create a circuit split which would give the Supreme Court — perhaps after a ninth justice is eventually confirmed to its bench — another opportunity to revisit Hanen’s order.