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Immigration Law

USCIS Chief Takes Responsibility For Injunction Violation: Law360

Allissa Wickham, Law360, May 18, 2015 - "The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said on Friday that he accepted responsibility for about 2,000 expanded work permits going out in violation of a court injunction on two of the president's executive action policies, telling a Texas federal court that the agency's injunction compliance could have used more oversight.

USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez said in a declaration to the court that as the head of the immigration agency, he accepts “full responsibility” for its failure to stop three-year work permits from being given to immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, despite a block on such actions from U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.

Judge Hanen’s injunction halted two key executive action policies from going into effect: the expansion of DACA, and the creation of a similar deferred deportation and work authorization program for some immigrant parents. Among the planned changes for DACA — which applies to immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors — was an expansion of the program from two to three years.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice told the court that USCIS stopped providing three-year work permits to DACA recipients, attorneys for the DOJ revealed on May 7 that the federal government now believes roughly 2,000 immigrants were given three-year work permits after Judge Hanen issued the block.

Rodriguez’s declaration was meant to supplement the DOJ’s recent advisory, and was filed alongside a declaration from Donald Neufeld, the agency’s associate director for Service Center Operations.

After taking responsibility for the three-year work permits going out, Rodriguez said that he believed USCIS should have “exercised greater management oversight” of the actions taken to stop three-year work permits from being issued, and coordinated among its various offices better.

The agency has also rescinded the three-year work permits, and will now tweak its computer systems to reduce the possibility for human error, according to Rodriguez. The USCIS director also emphasized that the agency strove to comply with the injunction almost immediately after it was issued.

“When the court issued its injunction, USCIS immediately took a series of steps intended to ensure that the agency ceased its preparations to implement the new DACA eligibility guidelines,” Rodriguez said.

According to the declaration submitted by Neufeld, USCIS discovered that the three-year work permits had been issued while the agency was in the process of providing two-year work permits to people whose cases had been placed on hold after the injunction.

Specifically, the agency realized that it had “erroneously failed to remove these cases from the processing queue,” meaning that their work permits had been processed with the three-year limitation after the court block, Neufeld said.

He added that efforts to identify all cases in which immigrants were given expanded terms of work authorization or deferred action after the injunction are ongoing. As a result, the number of expanded work permits handed out may change, Neufeld said.

A representative for the USCIS declined to comment on Monday, citing agency policy of not commenting on pending litigation, but he did say that “the declarations stand for USCIS.”

A spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is leading the suit for the plaintiffs, also declined to comment on Monday.

Representatives for the DOJ did not immediately comment on Monday.

The lawsuit, brought by 26 states, challenges both expanded DACA and the new program for immigrant parents, claiming that the new programs run afoul of proper rulemaking procedure, and violate the “take care clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

The federal government is currently fighting Judge Hanen’s injunction at the Fifth Circuit, and the appeals court has yet to rule on whether it will issue a stay on the order.

The plaintiffs are represented by Angela V. Colmenero, Adam N. Bitter, John C. Barker and Eric Hudson of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The federal government is represented by Benjamin Mizer, Joyce Branda, August Flentje, Jennifer Ricketts, James Gilligan and Daniel Schwei of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case is Texas et al. v. U.S. et al., case number 1:14-cv-00254, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas."