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Federal Appeals Court Lets Stand Blockage Of Obama Immigration Actions


There was another blow today to President Obama's immigration plan. A federal appeals court let an order stand that stops the administration from granting work permits and deportation protections to certain unauthorized immigrants. The initial injunction was granted by a Texas judge last February. This means millions of immigrants who are eligible under the president's executive actions remain in limbo. Joining us to talk about this latest development is NPR's John Burnett. He's in Austin. John, tell us what happened.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. Two out of the three of judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said that the 26 states that have sought to block the president's latest immigration plan can now go forward. A federal judge in Brownsville, Texas, had halted the president's action in February. It would have allowed nearly 5 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for protection from deportation. So now these states, led by Texas, all run by Republicans, can work to overturn his immigration action.

CORNISH: And so far, what have we heard from the White House in response?

BURNETT: Well, late today, White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said, quote, "two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misinterpret the facts and the law in denying the government's request for a stay." She went on to say the president's actions were designed to bring greater accountability to our broken immigration system, to grow the economy and keep our communities safe. She said they're squarely within the bounds of his authority and are the right thing to do for the country.

CORNISH: John, 26 states are opposing this. Can you tell us their argument?

BURNETT: Well, they say it's illegal. They say that through this executive action, the president effectively tells immigrants who are in this country unlawfully that now you're legal, which means you can do a number of things. You can get a driver's license. You can travel across international borders. You can go home lawfully. And the states say that the consequences of this action fall heavily on them, causing them to suffer irreparable harm. The attorney general in Texas, Ken Paxton, says the action would require the states to invest more in law enforcement and health care and public education, and in general, Republicans oppose it. They say it bypasses Congress and it's more examples of executive overreach that violate the Constitution.

CORNISH: I want to step back for a second. Remind us about these executive actions. What were they to have done?

BURNETT: Well, there were two main parts. The first would have expanded protections for the young immigrants from deportation temporarily if they were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were kids. And the second part was supposed to offer temporary legal relief to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents that have lived here for at least five years. So that would mean they also wouldn't have to fear being deported, and some of them could apply for work permits.

CORNISH: So what happens now?

BURNETT: Well, the plaintiff states, most of which are in the South and the Midwest, are free to pursue this case in the Brownsville court down here in Texas. The federal district judge, Andrew Hanen, who was appointed by George W. Bush, has been an outspoken - he's been outspoken on immigration. He once said the Department of Homeland Security should do more to discourage illegal immigration. But it could be a long time before the case gets argued on its merits in his courtroom. And if the lawsuit doesn't come up before the president leaves office - and that's a possibility - then it could be up to the new president if they want to defend Obama's executive action on immigration.

CORNISH: So how much of a setback is this for immigrants who wanted to take advantage of the president's action?

BURNETT: A Cornell law professor, Stephen Yale-Loehr, who's following the case - he called today's developments a temporary setback. He said the decision only involved an appeal and it's not a decision based on the merits of the case and that they - they haven't really been presented yet.

CORNISH: That's NPR's John Burnett on a federal appeals court refusing today to lift the hold on President Obama's executive actions on immigration. John, thank you.

BURNETT: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.