“Texas is the national testing ground for bad public policy,” the journalist Molly Ivins used to say.
It was a Texas attorney general, Gregg Abbott, who sued in federal court in Brownsville, Texas, challenging Barack Obama’s 2014 executive memorandum that attempted to provide temporary legal status for undocumented parents of children born in the United States. Twenty-five other Republican state attorneys general joined Abbott in the lawsuit.
Abbott, currently in the media spotlight because floodwaters created by Hurricane Harvey have inundated much of the city of Houston, used to brag that his job entailed “going to the office in the morning, suing the federal government, and going home in the afternoon.” He prevailed in Brownsville, blocking the implementation of Obama’s program, thus denying legal status to some 4 million undocumented residents of the United States. Their children might be citizens, or legal residents, but Abbott’s lawsuit ensured that they continue to live in the shadows.
Since filing suit against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (DAPA), Abbott was elected governor, and has moved further to the right, out of both conviction and a legitimate concern that his lieutenant governor, an evangelical extremist not unlike Vice President Mike Pence, will challenge him in a primary.
Abbott’s successor in the elected AG’s office is Ken Paxton, perhaps as extreme as Abbott, if not as bright and articulate, and currently under indictment for securities fraud.
In the footsteps of Abbott, Paxton is now leading a group of Republican state attorneys general in a lawsuit in the same Brownsville federal court, this time attempting to overturn a widely popular Obama executive action that currently defers the deportation of 886,814 young, undocumented residents, allowing them to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses, after paying a $495 fee and passing a background check.
It’s an odd designation, applicants are not granted “legal residence” per se, but rather allowed certain privileges while their deportation is deferred for two years, after which they can reapply to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. DACA status provides no path to citizenship, nor can people granted DACA status receive any federal financial benefits, such as Social Security, college financial aid, or food stamps.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an implacable opponent of immigration reform while he was in the Senate, appears to be at least supportive of Paxton’s lawsuit, telling “Fox and Friends” hosts: “I like that our states and localities are holding the federal government to account, expecting us to do what’s our responsibility to the state and locals, and that’s to enforce the law.”
Easy to confuse, two similar acronyms for two Obama programs for undocumented immigrants, DACA for children; and DAPA, which has been suspended while tied up in court, for parents. At least it was suspended until Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly rescinded it in mid-June, months before becoming Trump’s Chief of Staff.
For Paxton, rescinding DAPA, which was never implemented because it was tied up in court, wasn’t enough. On June 27, Paxton wrote to Sessions, demanding that he also order the Secretary of Homeland Security to end DACA.
Paxton warned Sessions that if the administration fails to issue a memorandum rescinding DACA by September 5, he will amend the lawsuit that successfully blocked DAPA and ask the same federal court to kill DACA.
Kill is not a legal term, but Paxton writes that unless the Trump administration rescinds Obama’s DACA order, he will ask the court for a ruling that lets the program die: “We respectfully ask the Secretary of Homeland Security to phase out the DACA program.…Specifically…not renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future.” If that request is not met, Paxton will go to court.
The suit Paxton intends to amend is sitting in the courtroom of Judge Andrew S. Hanen, whose animus toward undocumented immigrants is of record. As we reported in February 2015, Hanen was the author of a 2015 legal opinion in which he ruled on the enforcement authority of a federal agency, then went on to write 50 superfluous pages of dicta critical of the nation’s undocumented population.
A few examples:
“In 1992, the Attorney General estimated that the country’s immigrant population was as low as three million individuals. Today, California alone is said to have at least that many illegal aliens residing within its borders.”
“Evidence shows that Texas spends $9,473 to educate each illegal alien child … Texas also complains of the millions of dollars it must spend each year in providing uncompensated health care for these increasing numbers of undocumented workers.”
“This influx, for example, is causing the States to experience severe law enforcement problems … And in [Arizona’s] most populous county, these aliens are responsible for disproportionate share of serious crime.”
There is more in the public record that illustrates Hanen’s anti-immigrant bias.
Abbott was aware of Hanen’s hostile disposition toward undocumented immigrants when he carefully steered his 2015 DAPA lawsuit into his Brownsville courtroom. Now, Paxton will be trying his DACA case on the same playing field.
If Paxton goes ahead with the lawsuit, it will be left to Jeff Sessions to put together a defense for the 886,814 Dreamers whose temporary legal status Paxton is determined to end. After all, Paxton and his fellow attorneys general are suing Sessions’ client: the federal government.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to rescind DACA, but he has been ambivalent since taking office, suggesting that children shouldn’t be held responsible for their parents’ decision to bring them into the country.
But all this might be beyond Trump’s control, unless he requests Sessions to make the DACA suit go away, as he requested him to stop the criminal prosecution of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He failed with Arpaio and had to resort to a pardon. And his odds were better in Arizona, where the federal government was the prosecution in a criminal case, than in Texas, where it is a defendant in a civil action.
Beyond Hanen’s courtroom is the extremely conservative Fifth Circuit, never a friendly forum for undocumented residents of the country, and a conservative Supreme Court likely to be hostile to Obama-era executive orders and undocumented residents in general.
Perhaps this ends up a win-win proposition for Trump. He directs his Secretary of Homeland Security to kill the program. Or Paxton and his cohorts kill it in a Texas courtroom. Either way, a campaign promise is fulfilled. And a decision that at the moment appears inevitable forces almost 900,000 Dreamers back to a life in the shadows.
It all began in a courtroom in Texas.
One day before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, Richard Hofstadter was in London, delivering a lecture that a year later would appear in Harper’s as “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”
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In 2005 I was doing a regular Tuesday–Friday commute between Austin and Washington. One of the regulars on the flights was Karen Hughes, a longtime advisor to then-President George W. Bush. At the time, she was commuting to her State Department office, where she was the undersecretary for public diplomacy.
Donald Trump is constantly bemoaning the “War on Christmas” and ripping Starbucks for its plain red cups.
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When Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia in the late 1960s, he insisted that the problem with the state’s prisons was “the poor quality of its inmates.”
At a right-wing luncheon of rubber chicken in a Washington hotel ballroom three months ago, Marco Rubio told the story of his father, an immigrant bartender and waiter who had also worked in hotel ballrooms.
He has called President Obama a “socialist” and a “village idiot,” threatened to “unmask” him and suggested he “go back to Kenya.” In a rich and distinctly Cuban accent, he preaches the prosperity Gospel: tithe and accept God’s anointment and wealth will be bestowed upon you.
American politics is not easy for believers.
Sometimes prison time actually does rehabilitate. Or perhaps it was Alan Gross’ December 2014 rescue from a Cuban prison by the patient, quiet diplomacy of the Obama administration.
Gross, a small player in the failed U.S. policy to overthrow Fidel (then Raul) Castro, was a USAID contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison for engaging in illegal covert activity on the island. (Illegal there and probably illegal in the United States)
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Gross is working for a Miami-based PAC that will fund candidates who support President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba:
A political-action committee backing candidates in favor of a U.S.-Cuba policy shift will launch its campaign effort Monday with the help of a notable guest: Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who spent five years in Cuban prisons.
The committee, called New Cuba PAC, will back candidates who favor reorienting U.S.-Cuba policy, particularly with more trade and travel between the two countries. President Barack Obama took steps to lift financial and travel regulations in December as part of a normalization push, but it will take congressional action to fully lift an embargo and allow for full travel to the island.
As we reported at the time of his release, Gross was both a victim of George W. Bush’s Cuba regime-change policy and a perpetrator of several crimes in Cuba.
Gross, who spoke no Spanish and had no background in Cuban politics or policy, was arrested at the JosÃ© MartÃ Airport on his fifth smuggling trip. On the U.S. taxpayer’s tab, he had been installing internet hubs in an attempt to break the Castro brothers’ electronic blockade of foreign websites and internet communication.
Among the items Cuban investigators found in Gross’s contraband were sophisticated encryption systems normally available to only the U.S. Army or the CIA.
An American Jew who belongs to a reform congregation in Maryland, Gross used the Cuba’s Jewish community for cover, working with rabbis and the leaders of several synagogues on the island, who were unaware that he was a U.S. agent. He also used unwitting American Jews engaged in humanitarian work for U.S.-based Jewish charities as “mules” to smuggle electronic devices in their luggage when visiting Cuba.
Gross’ arrest panicked USAID officials, who were aware of what he was doing and of the program’s use of mulas to smuggle contraband. One email the Spectator obtained at the time read:
If you knew that the risks associated with sending travelers to the island were high, would your travelers still want to go? Why or why not?
Please complete the attached table and return it to me by COB Thursday 21 January. You will note that we are not asking you for the travelers’ names. We are also not asking for information about mulas. We’re interested in programmatic travelers who spent time on the island.
The American Jewish USAID operative working in a Cold War program flush with new funding demanded by President George W. Bush was sprung from prison by a Barack Obama diplomatic initiative that had enlisted the support of Pope Francis.
The president’s “home for Hanukkah” delivery of Gross completely unhinged anti-Castro Republicans, most notably presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
It’s going to take more than a couple of chilled Cuba Libres to calm their nerves now that their Cold Warrior has come in from the cold to work on behalf of Obama’s Cuba policy.
The collapse of InnoVida Holdings LLC in 2011 didn’t get much traction in the media. Except in South Florida where a small group of investors lost more than $40 million on a scheme to market hurricane- and earthquake-resistant homes assembled from prefabricated plastic panels. The company CEO had promised a highly publicized roll-out in Haiti followed by expansion into more lucrative markets. Neither ever occurred.