Only two weeks into the implementation of the deferred action program and amidst a spate of anti-immigrant attacks against it, a group of immigration officers has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy as unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs in Crane v. Napolitano are Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who claim that the recent directives of the Department of Homeland Security command them to violate federal law and are a usurpation of the legislative power of Congress.
They challenge in particular the June 15, 2012 memo of Sec. Janet Napolitano on deferred action for childhood arrivals and the June 17, 2011 Morton Memorandum establishing enforcement priorities, which they had complained of earlier. The agents say that they are forced to violate their oaths of office and several laws, or be disciplined for doing their job if they follow federal law and disregard the directives.
In effect, they disagree with the President’s policy to deport criminals first before students and individuals who were brought into the U.S. as young children, so much so that they refuse to be bound by the policy and have chosen to bring this difference of opinion to the court.
Many legal observers believe that the lawsuit has no merit and that it would be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
The group’s legal costs are shouldered by the anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA. The agents’ lawyer is Kris Kobach, whose name may sound familiar because he authored the infamous Arizona immigration law SB1070. He also advises GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on immigration.
One of the claims made by the employees is that federal law does not authorize deferred action, much less the granting of this benefit to 1.7 million potential beneficiaries.
But deferred action is not new. Widows of U.S. citizens have received deferred action from the USCIS, as do women who have suffered physical and mental abuse because of rape and domestic violence who are applying for a U visa. Foreign students who were affected when Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. were able to get deferred action. Deferred action is also a form of relief that is available in removal proceedings, whereby the DHS agrees not to deport an alien or not to execute a removal order.
I myself have in the past helped obtain deferred departure status for hundreds of nurses who would otherwise have been deported because they failed their licensure exams or changed employers without authorization. The INS agreed to give them deferred departure status for a maximum of 3 years. Many of these nurses eventually regained lawful status.
This present lawsuit is just the latest onslaught against the program that grants reprieve from deportation to deserving individuals who are in the U.S. through no fault of their own. On the same day that the USCIS began accepting deferred action requests, the governor of Arizona issued an executive order denying state benefits, including driver’s licenses, from deferred action beneficiaries. Nebraska’s governor quickly followed suit and announced that his state would also deny driver’s licenses, welfare benefits and other public assistance to DREAMErs.
Elsewhere, there are reasons for DREAMers to remain optimistic. In New York, for instance, a lawmaker has introduced a bill that would give undocumented youth access to government financial aid for college. A Colorado university has started to charge a reduced tuition fee for eligible undocumented students. A federal court also recently blocked key parts of immigration laws of Alabama and Georgia.