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Federal judge stalls Obama’s action on immigration

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington – — The Obama administration put its new deportation-relief program on hold Tuesday on the eve of its launch, complying reluctantly with a federal judge’s order that roiled immigrant communities nationwide and seemed to harden an already-tense stalemate on Capitol Hill.

President Barack Obama promised an appeal and predicted he’d prevail. But for tens of thousands of immigrants in line to begin applying Wednesday for work permits and deportation stays under his directives, their plans were canceled, at least temporarily.

Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, Obama said he disagreed with the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas that the administration had exceeded its authority. But he said that, for now, he must abide by it.

“We’re not going to disregard this federal court ruling,” Obama said, but he added that administration officials would continue to prepare to roll out the program. “I think the law is on our side and history is on our side,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, the Homeland Security Department stood 10 days away from losing funding, but Hanen’s ruling made a compromise on that dispute look more distant than ever.

Hanen’s ruling late Monday night, in a case brought by 26 states led by Texas and includes Michigan, said that Obama and his Homeland Security Department lacked the authority to take the actions they did.

Republicans are blocking funding for the agency unless Democrats agree to cancel Obama’s immigration orders, and they seized on the ruling as validation for their position.

“Congress must reassert its waning power. We must re-establish the constitutional principle that the people’s representatives control the purse,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a leading immigration hardliner.

Yet Senate Democrats, who have been blocking a House-passed bill that would fund the department but also undo Obama’s actions, said the ruling from Hanen did nothing to budge them.

“Democrats remain united in our belief that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period,” said Chuck Schumer of New York.

The agency’s $40 billion budget runs out Feb. 27, and with Congress now on recess lawmakers will have only a few days to reach an agreement once they return to Washington next week. One possibility is a short-term extension of current funding levels, but House Speaker John Boehner said over the weekend that the House had done its job and he would “certainly” let a shutdown occur if the Senate didn’t act.

If the political impasse seemed severe, so were the implications for millions of immigrants in the country illegally who have cheered Obama’s executive directives in the face of congressional inaction.

“We feel powerless but not defeated, sure that it will all work out,” 46-year-old Claudia Ramon, a native of Colombia, said at a rally in Houston, one of dozens nationwide where immigrants and their advocates vowed to continue with preparations under Obama’s programs.