The immigration issue is front and center in Washington this week, as the so-called Gang of Eight finally unveiled a comprehensive reform bill at around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Texas, a federal judge is set to rule within days on a pending lawsuit that has gone largely unnoticed, although it could have serious implications for the immigration debate.
The suit pits the Obama administration against its own immigration-enforcement agents, who are suing over the administration’s use of “prosecutorial discretion” to dictate how immigration law is enforced — or not enforced. A group of ten U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents has charged that a series of policy directives from ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) effectively “commands ICE officers to violate federal law” and face possible suspension or termination if they refuse. Critics of the Gang of Eight’s proposal worry that if nothing is done to prevent future administrations from similarly ignoring immigration laws, the country will inevitably face another crisis down the road.
A federal judge in Dallas heard arguments in the case on April 8, and he is expected to issue a ruling in the coming days. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against a June 2012 directive from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that instructs ICE officers to refrain from initiating deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants who may qualify for what is sometimes referred to as “DREAM status.” Immigrants who might qualify would be those who were brought here illegally as children, who are currently enrolled in school or are a member of the military, and who have not been convicted of a serious crime.
The ICE agents claim that the directive “violates the obligation of the executive branch to faithfully execute the law,” which mandates that if immigration officers find that a detainee is in the country illegally, that individual “shall be detained” for removal proceedings. The Obama administration, however, is arguing that the word “shall,” in this instance, actually means “may.” The resulting enforcement breakdown has led officials to release…