by Alan B. Morrison, the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law; Professional Lecturer in Law, George Washington University Law School
The area near the border between Texas and Mexico is a dangerous one, especially if you are a liberal Democrat from the North trying to deal with about 11.3 million individuals who are not lawfully in the United States, when the budget and the personnel to operate existing systems will not enable you to deport more than 400,000 a year. And judging from the February 16 opinion in Texas v. United States by District Judge Andrew Hanen, who sits in the Brownsville Federal Court located there, the courthouse is not a safe place to be either.
Judge Hanen’s ruling, which runs 123 pages and was followed by a three-page preliminary injunction, has so much in it that it is impossible to do more in an essay like this than to summarize the key points. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has appealed and is seeking a stay in the Fifth Circuit, which will be heard on April 17. But first, let’s start with what Judge Hanen did and then take a look at the appellate posture.
The first step is to recognize who in the Executive Branch did what that precipitated the lawsuit. Although the popular notion is that it was a decision of President Obama that was being challenged, the President did not issue an executive order or anything else to bring about these changes: he left those to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeb Johnson. This choice may actually matter here because the flaw that Judge Hanen identified – failure to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) – applies only to agency officials, which excludes the President.
Secretary Johnson, acting with at least the president’s blessing, if not at his direction, created a new program for parents of children lawfully in the United States – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Aliens (DAPA) – and expanded the existing program for children – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Each has two major components. First, they direct agency officials not to deport otherwise deportable aliens who fall into certain categories whose presence in the U.S. does not present significant dangers to the country, mainly parents of others authorized to be in the U.S. Second, they authorize the estimated 4.3 million individuals who fall in each category to receive federal work authorizations, which aliens need to obtain a legal job, as well as other benefits that flow from being authorized to work. The legal issues for the two parts are different, but before turning to those questions, there is the ever-present and often devilish issue of standing or, in lay language, what says you have a right to sue over this claim?