WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal judge assigned to rule in the lawsuit over President Barack Obama's changes to immigration rules last year accused the Obama administration of participating in criminal conspiracies to smuggle children into the country by reuniting them with parents living here illegally.
In the case last year, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen suggested that the Homeland Security Department should be arresting parents living in the U.S. illegally who induce their children to cross the border illegally and often pay for the trip. Instead, the government has generally been temporarily reuniting such children with their relatives inside the United States pending deportation proceedings, which take many years.
"DHS has simply chosen not to enforce the United States' border security laws," the judge wrote. He said the government's failures to enforce immigration laws were "both dangerous and unconscionable," although he separately noted, "This court takes no position on the topic of immigration reform, nor should one read this opinion as a commentary on that issue."
Hanen was assigned through an automated system to be the judge who will preside over a lawsuit filed by 20 states trying to block Obama's expansive executive actions to spare nearly 5 million people living in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on "felons, not families." Hanen is one of only two judges in the Brownsville division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and he is assigned to half of all civil cases filed there.
Last December, Hanen wrote a 10-page order in an immigrant smuggling case in which he expressed his frustration over four cases in a month in which a child who arrived in the U.S. illegally alone was reunited with a parent also in the country illegally.
"Instead of arresting (the child's mother) for instigating the conspiracy to violate our border security laws, the (Homeland Security Department) delivered the child to her — thus successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy," Hanen wrote.
The judge compared the cases to the government seizing weapons being smuggled across the border and delivering them to the criminals inside the United States who ordered them.
The order highlighted the growing problem of unaccompanied child immigrants being caught at the border in South Texas. During the fiscal year that ended in September, the government apprehended more than 68,000 unaccompanied children at the border.
Most of those young immigrants were from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala. Under federal law, those children cannot be quickly deported and are often reunited with a parent or other relative already living in the United States. The government does not generally ask about the immigration status of parents or relatives.
Texas is leading a coalition of states suing the government. It argued in the lawsuit filed last week that Obama's decision "tramples" key portions of the Constitution. The states, including Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana and the Carolinas, aren't seeking monetary damages but want Hanen to block the president's actions.
It's not unusual for plaintiffs in sensitive civil cases to shop for a court jurisdiction friendly to their point of view, but the location of the court generally must have some connection to the case. In this case just about any court in Texas would suffice. Hanen's ruling last year — which generated some publicity then — likely swayed lawyers for Texas to file the lawsuit in Brownsville, not far from the central point of the summer's crisis over child immigrants in nearby McAllen.
"Texas is uniquely qualified to challenge the president's executive order, and South Texas is at the epicenter of where border security is of concern for Texas and the entire nation," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. Abbott was elected last month to be the next governor of Texas.
The Justice Department, which is defending the case, declined to comment on the case.
Obama announced the executive actions in November, saying lack of action by Congress forced him to make sweeping changes to immigration rules on his own.
The administrative actions don't provide legal immigration status or green cards to those in the country illegally, but millions of eligible immigrants will be able to apply for permission to stay in the country for up to three years and get a work permit.
Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap