The Obama administration suffered another immigration setback Tuesday, as a divided federal appeals court declined to lift an injunction imposed by a Texas-based trial judge.
The 2-1 decision by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means that President Barack Obama’s executive action deferring deportation of certain immigrants will remain stalled in court for the foreseeable future.
The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program stopped deportation proceedings against certain immigrants who had arrived illegally in the United States before age 16. A 2014 expansion added more immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizens. Taken together, the actions could shield more than 4 million immigrants from deportation.
Critics call the program amnesty and say it exceeds the president’s authority. Supporters say it simply exercises prosecutorial discretion, and they argue that the challengers lack the legal standing to be in court.
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In February, addressing a challenge brought by Texas and 25 other states, including Florida, a Brownsville, Texas-based federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the expanded deferred-deportation program announced last year.
In joining the suit last December, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that Obama had overstepped his authority. “We need to fix our system of immigration, but willfully turning a blind eye to the inconvenience of law and rule is not the path to a remedy, but a prescription for unwarranted presidential overreach.”
In the decision issued Tuesday, the appellate court agreed with Texas that the deferred action policy known as DAPA imposed a serious burden on the state, and that Texas and the other states had a substantial likelihood of ultimately winning their legal case.
“DAPA modifies substantive rights and interests, conferring lawful presence on 500,000 illegal aliens in Texas (forcing) the state to choose between spending millions of dollars to subsidize driver’s licenses and changing its law,” Smith wrote.
The decision was met with dismay by local immigration activists, who held a news conference on Tuesday night at the Miami Springs headquarters of the South Florida AFL-CIO.
“We’re not surprised but we’re deeply disappointed,’’ said Maria Rodriguez, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, adding that an estimated 253,000 people in Florida could benefit from Obama’s immigration reforms. “Many families are not only part of the work force but are also consumers and taxpayers.’’
One undocumented immigrant, Mauro Kennedy, 52, said that he believes the decision is a further blow to his hopes. Kennedy suffers from a degenerative disease affecting his hips — he believes that under Obama’s reforms, he may be eligible for a waiver that would allow him to travel to his native Argentina for medical treatment and then return to Miami.
“I won’t be able to walk in a few months,’’ Kennedy said. “The court’s decision affects our lives terribly.’’
The Obama administration now must decide whether to ask the entire Fifth Circuit to review the case or to seek review by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, or to take some other step.
A request that the Supreme Court lift the injunction, and thereby let the Obama immigration policy take effect while the full appeal runs its course, would first go to Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees the Fifth Circuit. On such a big issue, Scalia would likely refer the matter to the other eight justices for a decision.
Any decision could push the issue into the 2016 presidential campaign spotlight.
Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.