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Advocates say court ruling won’t stop Obama’s immigration action

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WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the president’s expanded immigration reform policies on the eve of their implementation, but immigration advocacy groups were unfazed, calling the ruling a “little bump in the road.”

Arizona was one of 26 states that sued to block President Barack Obama’s move to expand deferred deportation protections to more than 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

In a 123-page opinion issued late Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said the states’ lawsuit had sufficient merit to block the president’s proposed expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals while the case proceeds. Hanen did not rule on the constitutionality of the program.

As a result of the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security said it would not start accepting applications for the expanded DACA program Wednesday, as originally planned.

But administration officials remained confident Tuesday that the delay would be only temporary and that Obama’s executive actions were “fully consistent with the executive branch’s authority under the law.”

“Republicans have advocated for the status quo. That means 11 million people who are living in the shadows, not paying taxes many of them, and not getting right with the law,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest during a conference call. “That’s why we continue to be confident that the president’s executive actions aren’t just legal, they’re clearly the right thing to do for the country.”

The White House said it will appeal Hanen’s ruling.

But some Arizona lawmakers backed the decision.

“As a nation of separated powers, I applaud the ruling of the district court in Texas preventing these actions from taking place until their constitutionality has been thoroughly reviewed,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, in a statement.

Those sentiments were echoed by other Arizona Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, Rep. Martha McSally of Tucson and Rep. Paul Gosar of Prescott.

Gosar called the ruling “an important first step to reining in an out-of-control executive branch and abolishing the precedent of ruling by executive fiat against the will of the American people.”

Members of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition were not surprised by Hanen’s ruling, although they had hoped it “wasn’t going to happen,” said Yadira Garcia, a founding member of the coalition and program coordinator for its No-Dream Deferred program.

Garcia, who received a deportation deferral under the 2012 DACA program, said it is important for those who qualify for the programs delayed by Hanen’s ruling to “stay calm, keep informed and keep preparing.” They include immigrants who would be covered by expanded DACA provisions and those who would qualify for DAPA – a deferral program for parents of U.S.-born children.

“This is something temporary,” Garcia said. “We fought very, very hard for DACA. We fought very hard for the expansion and for DAPA, and we’re going to continue to defend that victory.”

The expansion of DACA was part of the executive action on immigration the president announced in November. The DACA changes lifted age restrictions on those applying, extended from 2007 to 2010 the year by which an applicant had to have been brought to this country, and increased work permits available under the program from two years to three years.

The Department of Homeland Security was scheduled to start accepting applications for the expanded DACA program Wednesday; the DAPA program was to take effect sometime in May. The department said Tuesday it was putting both on hold for now.

While the Justice Department will appeal Hanen’s temporary injunction, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that “in the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it.”

White House officials would not say Tuesday where the appeal stood or how long they expected the injunction to last.

According to state-by-state statistics compiled by the Migration Policy Institute, Arizona has the ninth-highest number of undocumented immigrants eligible for DAPA and the eighth-highest number eligible for an expanded DACA.

Initial applications in Arizona (for DACA) are up to 26,000 and our estimate is about 32,000 people who are eligible. That is just over 80 percent,” said Randy Capps, Migration Policy Institute’s director of research. “That’s a very high rate.”

Capps attributed Arizona’s high number of DACA applicants to strong community organizations in the state that help eligible immigrants work through the application process.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the ruling a “political action intended to inspire fear” but was confident that it was “only temporary.”

“This is an unnecessary delay in allowing them to come forward and contribute to the only country they call home,” Hincapie said during a conference call with advocates Tuesday.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the ruling was only an “interim step” in a legal process that has yet to play out.

“I think we have to look at this decision for what it is,” Holder said at a press conference. “It is a decision by one federal district court judge. I’ve always expected that this is a matter that ultimately will be decided by a higher court, if not the Supreme Court, then a federal court of appeals.”