Four immigrants are challenging a Texas-based judge’s order that the US justice department must give him the personal data of about 50,000 people who applied for benefits under the Obama administration’s deportation deferral programme.
Andrew Hanen, a federal judge, ruled on 19 May that the government must send the information by 10 June. The challenge announced on Friday seeks a decision that would avoid details such as addresses, social security numbers and immigrant registration identifiers potentially falling into the hands of states that want to block the president’s executive actions. The petition will ask the New Orleans-based federal fifth circuit appeals court to rule before that date.
Handing over personal information to authorities is a sensitive issue for many undocumented immigrants, who worry that it could be used against them.
“If Judge Hanen’s order is honoured, everyone else may have to think twice before submitting personal information to the government agencies because they will be worried that the information could be shared with politicians who will post them at any time for any reason,” said one of the plaintiffs, Angelica Villalobos, a 31-year-old Oklahoma resident, on a conference call with reporters on Friday.
“I’m very concerned that my family or I could be harassed or even physically harmed by private individuals should my personal information fall into the wrong hands. Having been a vocal advocate for immigrants, I am well aware of the anti-immigrant sentiment held by some individuals,” said another member of the 50,000 on the call, Juan Escalante, a 27-year-old from Florida.
Escalante also expressed concerns about the potential for identity theft if his details are disseminated. Two Texas-based undocumented immigrants acting anonymously are the other petitioners.
Texas is among 26 states challenging the president’s moves to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme started in 2012 and create a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (Dapa) policy. Announced in 2014, the plans could protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from removal and allow many to work, but Hanen blocked them last year, two days before expanded Daca applications were to open.
The states accused Obama of unconstitutional overreach and claimed the plans would be expensive to implement. The case is currently before the supreme court.
It was not surprising that the battle against Obama’s plans began with a filing in Hanen’s court. In 2013, he said in a court order that the Department of Homeland Security was complicit in child smuggling when it reunited children who have been taken across the border with undocumented parents already in the US.
In a scathing decision that opened with quotations about playing by the rules from a scene in Bridge of Spies, the 2015 film starring Tom Hanks, Hanen last month accused the government’s lawyers of misrepresentations.
He then ordered that any US justice department attorney seeking to appear in a court in any of the 26 states must annually attend a legal ethics course. In this part of his ruling, Hanen referenced a courtroom scene in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th St: “The need to tell the truth, especially in court, was obvious to a fictional young Tommy Mara Jr in 1947, yet there are certain attorneys in the Justice Department who apparently have not received that message, or more likely have just decided they are above such trivial concepts.”
Hanen, a George W Bush appointee who is based in Brownsville, on the border with Mexico, wrote that the data would remain sealed at least until the supreme court’s ruling, unless a state shows “good cause” to release some or all of the list. He wrote that he was issuing the order to furnish the details because the government had not been truthful about how many immigrants had already received deportation relief.
The US justice department has its own pending motion to stay Hanen’s order – a long-shot given that the judge himself will hear it, on 7 June.
Advocates said on the call that Hanen’s order victimises people who are part of the original Daca programme from 2012 and so have no connection with the current dispute over expansion.
“With these outrageous demands, Judge Hanen has unfairly and unnecessarily dragged a group of blameless individuals into this politically driven lawsuit, potentially compromising their privacy and safety with no legal justification,” said Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups working with the four immigrants.
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