PHOENIX — Raul Reynoso got a bonus when he renewed the federal work permit he received through President Obama's 2012 program granting protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
He was expecting a two-year permit. Instead, his new permit doesn't expire for three years, until 2017...
Reynoso is one of more than 100,000 so-called "dreamers" who received three-year work permits under Obama's executive actions on immigration before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting the programs in February.
Now Reynoso and the other dreamers are caught a bitter legal dispute over whether the Justice Department intentionally misled the judge by failing to disclose that the government had already started issuing three-year permits to some dreamers.
The revelation, which came to light after Hanen issued his injunction, has further incensed 26 states, including Arizona, that have filed a lawsuit seeking to block Obama's programs aimed at offering protection from deportation to an additional 4 million undocumented immigrants.
Hanen, who oversees the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, issued the injunction Feb. 16, just before the first of Obama's new programs was set to begin accepting applications on Feb. 18.
Now Reynoso and the others may have to give back the three-year permits if Hanen determines the Obama administration violated the injunction by failing to tell the judge that the government had already started issuing three-year permits before Obama's executive actions were scheduled to start.
That could leave dreamers such as Reynoso to reapply for two-year permits, or it could leave them with no work permits at all.
"Absolutely ... it's something to be concerned about," said Reynoso, who works as an insurance agent and came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 6.
Obama announced on Nov. 20 that since Congress had failed to pass legislation reforming the nation's immigration system, he was going to use his executive authority to offer protection from deportation and work permits to about 4 million of the 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.
The president's actions included expanding his 2012 program for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children by removing an age cap that limited the program to those under the age of 31. The actions also created a new program for undocumented parents with children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
The actions, spelled out in a memo issued by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, also said that effective Nov. 24, everyone approved for protection from deportation would receive three-year work permits instead of the two-year permits issued under the existing 2012 program.
Shortly afterward, Texas and 25 other states filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block Obama's programs from taking effect by arguing they were created illegally.
In the meantime, the government issued three-year work permits to 108,081 people, including Reynoso, from Nov. 24 until the injunction was issued. Those people had applied for protection from deportation under the existing program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
But Hanen didn't find that out until March 3, nearly two weeks after he issued his injunction, when Justice Department lawyers notified him in court papers.
The judge was furious. For weeks leading up to the Feb. 16 injunction, Justice Department lawyers had insisted that the government was not scheduled to start implementing Obama's programs until Feb. 18.
"So, like an idiot, I believed that," Hanen said during a testy court hearing March 19.
Ruling expected soon
Government lawyers contend it was simply an oversight. During the hearing, they told Hanen they were so focused on the start of the new deferred-action programs, they neglected to mention that the government had already started issuing three-year permits under the old program, which was not affected by Hanen's ruling.
But lawyers from the states want to know if the government intentionally withheld the information knowing that once the government started issuing three-year permits, it would be hard "to put the toothpaste back in the tube."
They contend the states have already suffered "irreparable injury" because undocumented immigrants can use their three-year work permits to get driver's licenses that also last for three years. That's because driver's licenses are issued for the length of time a person who receives deferred action can remain lawfully in the U.S.
Hanen is expected to rule any day on a motion filed by the states, asking him to force the Justice Department to turn over documents to determine if the government intentionally misled the court.
The judge said he will also decide whether he will order the government to revoke the three-year permits if he determines the government violated the injunction.
"He could order the government to take back the three-year permits and reissue two-year permits. He could do nothing. Or he could revoke them altogether," said Nora Preciado, a lawyer at the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy organization in Los Angeles.
Hanen has already denied the Justice Department's request to lift the injunction and allow Obama's programs to go forward until the merits of the case can be decided. As a result, the Justice Department has filed a motion with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to lift Hanen's injunction.
Meanwhile, dreamers across the country are worried about losing their three-year permits...
He came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 4. He graduated from the University of Houston in 2012 with a degree in political science.
Espinosa is now the executive director of Fiel Houston, a non-profit organization that helps undocumented immigrants apply for deferred action...
Read more about 100,000 'dreamers' could lose 3-year work permits