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Court Refuses to Lift Injunction Against Obama's Immigration Plan

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 26, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Obama's executive actions on immigration won't be implemented anytime in the near future, after the Fifth Circuit refused this afternoon to lift a lower court's injunction against the program. After Obama took action to stem the deportation of non-citizen parents and children, 26 states sued. The states, led by Texas, argued that the president exceeded the scope of his authority and won an injunction in Texas federal court.

In a bad omen for the Obama administration, the two judges on the three judge Fifth Circuit panel found that the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal. Following the lower court's adverse ruling, the Obama administration halted its immigration changes, which would defer the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Obama's Immigration Plan

The immigration plan, enacted through executive order, seeks to change enforcement of the nation's immigration laws. Under Obama's order, enforcement actions would focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Deportations of families and children with no criminal offenses would be reconsidered. The plan could affect up to five million citizens. Twenty-six states had argued that the program put excessive burdens on their budget and violated the President's constitutional obligation to "take Care that Laws be faithfully executed."

Avoiding the constitutional issue, the district court had ruled that the President's program failed to follow the notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act. Without proper public review, the states were unable to protect their interests through the administrative process. District court Judge Andrew Hanen enjoined the administration from enforcing the program, at least in Texas. The administration put the whole program on hold while it appealed.

Refusing to Lift the Injunction

The appeal, in fact, did not focus on the substantive merits of Judge Hanen's ruling, but in the appropriateness of his injunction. The government had argued that the injunction was inappropriate and should be stayed. In their arguments, refusing to stay the ruling interfered with the immigration status of thousands and obstructed the public interest -- it even put the border at risk.

The Fifth Circuit didn't buy it, finding that the government was unlikely to win overall and was not entitled to a stay of the district court's opinion. In the opinion, the Fifth found that the states would be irreparably harmed if the immigration changes went ahead. It further held that the public interest leans in favor of the states, rejecting the government's arguments about improving public safety and providing humanitarian relief. The public interest rather, the court found, favors maintaining the status quo, lest deportable aliens identify themselves to receive expected benefits, only to see the program later invalidated.

In the meantime, the government has not announced whether it will appeal, either to an en banc Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court, or if it will scrap the immigration plan altogether. The possibility of implementing the program in other jurisdictions is no more, however, as the court also refused to limit the injunction to Texas, arguing that immigration laws must be enforced uniformly.

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