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Immigration ruling: ‘beyond mere enforcement’

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (BP) — The Obama administration has appealed a federal judge’s ruling blocking implementation of a program that would potentially grant “legal presence” to some 4 million undocumented immigrants. The administration also asked a federal court to stay the ruling.

On the day the appeal was filed, a Baptist college president noted the Obama administration’s “selective enforcement of immigration policies.”

“Everyone has to be under the same law,” Barry Creamer, president of Criswell College in Dallas and a trustee of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in written comments Feb. 23. “To many observers the president’s selective enforcement of immigration policies appears to establish a de facto set of laws for longtime [illegal] immigrants distinct from the rules legal immigrants followed often at great sacrifice. But what is most disconcerting in the present moment is the president’s apparent push against the checks and balances between the three branches of government.”

The ERLC has called for immigration reform that would provide border and workplace security; uphold the rule of law; respect family unity; and establish a path to legal status for those who want to live in America permanently and are willing to pay penalties and meet the requirements.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled Feb. 16 that a deferred-deportation program initiated by the Department of Homeland Security may not be implemented while a lawsuit is being decided, in which 26 states challenged the measure. The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), would allow illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before age 16 to apply for “legal presence” status and work permits in renewable three-year increments.

The states challenging DAPA allege that applications for legal presence status likely will receive “only a pro forma” review before being granted, according to Hanen’s 123-page opinion. A similar program denied only 5 percent of approximately 723,000 applications for legal status through the end of 2014, Hanen wrote.

In an emergency motion asking a federal court to keep DAPA in effect while an appeal of Hanen’s ruling is decided, Sarah Saldana, director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, wrote that blocking DAPA “interferes with the Federal Government’s comprehensive strategy for enforcing our immigration laws.” DAPA was among a package of controversial executive actions on immigration announced by Obama in November.

Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee based in Brownsville, Texas, ruled that the state of Texas — perhaps along with other states — will “suffer an injury” because of the program, has legal standing to challenge the program and possesses “a substantial likelihood of succeeding” in its lawsuit.

In 2013-14, Texas absorbed at least $58 million in education costs stemming from illegal immigration and in 2008 incurred $716 million in uncompensated medical care provided to illegal aliens, Hanen noted — figures likely to increase if the number of undocumented immigrants increases.

The Department of Homeland Security “was not given any ‘discretion by law’ to give 4.3 million removable aliens what DHS itself labels as ‘legal presence,'” Hanen wrote. “In fact the law mandates that these illegally-present individuals be removed.

“The DHS has adopted a new rule that substantially changes both the status and employability of millions. These changes go beyond mere enforcement or even non-enforcement of this nation’s immigration scheme. It inflicts major costs on both the states and federal government,” Hanen wrote.

If a stay of Hanen’s order is granted, the administration believes it can begin accepting applications for the program as it appeals the ruling.

“We will seek that appeal because we believe that when you evaluate the legal merits of the argument, that there is solid legal foundation for the president to take the steps that he announced late last year to reform our broken immigration system,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

In November, ERLC President Russell Moore called Obama’s executive action “an unwise and counterproductive move,” stating his preference for immigration reform to occur “through the legislative process.” (See BP story here.)

In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel while pursuing justice and compassion. The resolution urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested that public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.”

Debate over the resolution suggested disagreement among Southern Baptists on how the federal government should handle America’s 11-12 million illegal immigrants. An amendment to delete the paragraph calling for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” failed by a 51.3-48.4 margin. The Resolutions Committee proposed an amendment, which was accepted by messengers, clarifying that the resolution was “not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”

Creamer of Criswell College noted that “thoughtful believers have several issues to work through regarding the recent immigration conflict between the states and federal government, and now even within the federal government between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

“First and foremost in many believers’ minds on both sides of the political aisle is the compassion we have and wish to express for every immigrant in our country — legal or otherwise. Too many immigration discussions reveal racist tendencies. At the same time, the only way genuine compassion for every person can be realized is for all to be under the same rule of law. In a just society there cannot be one set of laws for some immigrants and another set of laws for other immigrants; neither can there be one law for citizens and another for outsiders,” Creamer said.