A leading congressional critic of President Obama’s unilateral immigration actions is hailing a federal appeals court decision to uphold the challenge of 26 states to a policy that would grant at least five million illegal immigrants legal residence in the U.S.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the challenging states would be overly harmed by Obama’s actions. It also rejected an administration request to move forward with the program in the states that did join the lawsuit.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and is still a senior member of that panel. He filed a petition in support of Texas and the other 25 states challenging Obama’s actions. Despite two long days of evaluating the response to devastating floods in his district, Smith is very upbeat about the courts delivering another blow to what he sees as an Obama overreach.
“This lawsuit could not be more crucial, quite frankly. It’s our first good win in court in a long, long time. We were overdue in trying to hold this president accountable for his unlawful actions,” said Smith. “He took action to give amnesty to as many as five million people in the country illegally. Clearly that was in violation of current law.”
The congressman not only believes the 26 states have a good chance of winning the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but he believes the court-imposed hold will run out the clock on Obama’s amnesty agenda.
“It was clearly unconstitutional and I’m just gratified that the three judge panel called it for what it was, unlawful and unconstitutional. I think this has really set the administration back and I think the president will be out of office before it’s resolved,” said Smith.
The White House, of course, vehemently disagreed with the decision.
“Today, two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misrepresent the facts and the law,” said White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine, who says the president’s actions were designed to improve our immigration system and the economy and were “squarely within the bounds of his authority.”
The crux of the legal debate is how far the president’s discretion over deportations extends. Smith admits the chief executive does have the power to halt some deportations.
“On an individual basis, he does have an amount of discretion whether to send someone back to their home country or not,” he said.
Obama contends he can defer deportation to the five million people in the nation illegally, because they all fall within a certain category. Namely, they all allegedly have children who are legal residents of the United States.
Smith says that’s not what the law allows.
“He cannot give amnesty to categories of individuals. He can, on a hardship basis, make individual exceptions to the general rule, This is anything but individual,” said Smith.
The Obama administration has not only lost at the district and appellate court levels but has also been admonished by District Judge Andrew Hanen for continuing to implement the policy after Hanen placed an injunction on it. As a result, more than 108,000 people in the U.S. illegally were granted three-year deportation deferrals.
“The judge was understandably upset by this. The administration says they don’t know how it happened. They were wrong. The apologized, but we have seen time and time again this administration will do whatever they think they can get away with,” said Smith, who says the administration has displayed that attitude since Obama took office.
“Throughout his tenure, President Obama has intentionally undermined immigration laws, not enforced immigration laws and tried to unilaterally change immigration laws,” he said.
The administration claims it is trying to find out who was improperly granted deportation deferrals but Smith says it’s hard to undo it.
“I don’t know whether to believe the administration or not. I’m glad they apologized but the damage is done,” said Smith.
Smith’s comments come after two days of meeting with residents and local and state leaders after historic flooding in his district. Over Memorial Day weekend, the Blanco River sent a 44-foot high wall of water into Wimberly, Texas, destroying property in its path and taking several lives. Others are still missing. The previous record surge on the river was a 32-foot crest back in 1926.
Smith says he is working to help the Texans in his district get on their feet and rebuild.
“It is tragic. The devastation is hard to imagine. At the same time, it was reassuring to see these individuals who had been damaged by this flood already rebuilding. They’re resourceful. They’re resilient and I really watched firsthand the American spirit at work,” said Smith, who says many businesses hope to be open again by the end of the week.