Federal attorneys' conduct criticized in immigration case

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 7:51 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — Using a mix of scathing language and movie quotes, a federal judge in Texas who had blocked President Barack Obama's immigration executive action ordered Thursday that Justice Department attorneys attend an ethics course, saying they misled him about whether the administration had begun implementing one of the proposals.

After a group of 26 states filed a lawsuit in late 2014 challenging Obama's proposed measures, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction that halted them. Before ordering the injunction, Justice Department attorneys told Hanen one key part of Obama's actions, an expansion of a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, hadn't taken effect.

Federal officials later revealed they had given more than 108,000 people three-year reprieves from deportation and granted them work permits under the program. Justice Department attorneys had previously insisted the reprieves were granted under 2012 guidelines, which weren't stopped by the injunction.

Obama's proposed executive actions could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation and make them eligible to work in the United States. Many Republicans oppose the actions, saying only Congress has the right to take such sweeping action. A ruling on the lawsuit, led by Texas, is pending from the U.S. Supreme Court after the case was argued before the high court in April.

Hanen, based in Brownsville, Texas, said the issue pending before him was how to deal with the "misconduct" and "misrepresentations" from the Justice Department attorneys.

In his 28-page order, which began with quotes about adhering to rulebooks from last year's Cold War thriller "Bridge of Spies," Hanen said that one thing was "indisputably clear": Justice Department lawyers misrepresented the facts. Later in his order, Hanen also used quotes from the Christmas movie classic "Miracle on 34th Street" to discuss the "need to tell the truth, especially in court."

"For whatever reason, the Justice Department trial lawyers appearing in this court chose not to tell the truth about this (Department of Homeland Security) activity," he wrote. "Such conduct is certainly not worthy of any department whose name includes the word 'Justice.' Suffice it to say, the citizens of all fifty states, their counsel, the affected (immigrants) and the judiciary all deserve better."

In an email, Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said his agency "strongly disagrees with the order." He declined further comment.

"Throughout this case, the administration has struggled to provide accurate, reliable information regarding the scope of the president's plan or even when it would be implemented," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.

Hanen ordered that any Justice Department attorney in Washington, D.C., who has to appear in either a state or federal court in any of the 26 states that are part of the lawsuit will have to annually attend for the next five years a legal ethics course.

He also ordered U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to report to him in 60 days and present a comprehensive plan to prevent "this unethical conduct from ever occurring again."

Hanen also ordered that federal officials provide a list of the individuals who were mistakenly given the three year reprieves and that this information could be given to officials in states where these immigrants live.

The other states seeking to block Obama's orders are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

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