Lawyers To Fifth Circuit: Stop Texas Judge From Obtaining 50,000 Immigrants' Addresses

On Friday, national immigration lawyers asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop Brownsville U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen from ordering the feds to hand over private information belonging to more than 50,000 young undocumented immigrants. For no legally justifiable reason, attorneys said.

Those 50,000 immigrants live in the 26 states that have sued the feds over President Barack Obama's 2014 executive action that both expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and implemented Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, saving tens of thousands of people from the threat of deportation by providing them temporary work permits. The suit originated in Hanen's court last year, when he blocked Obama's executive actions, effectively halting the deportation protections.

And though the case is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide this summer whether Obama's immigration reforms can go forward, Hanen apparently wasn't done making a ruckus.

Last month, he accused Department of Justice attorneys of misconduct in his court, claiming they made misleading statements about whether they knew that over 100,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide were erroneously issued three-year DACA permits from November 2014 through February 2015. Hanen ordered the feds to hand over a long list of the names, addresses and “all available contact information” for the 50,000-plus immigrants who received permits during that same period. Though he said that the list, due to him by June 10, would be sealed, he also implied that he can share portions of it with law enforcement agencies “on a showing of good cause.” Which Hanen will apparently determine himself.

“Judge Hanen 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.

The NILC, American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and ACLU of Texas filed the writ of mandamus—which asks a higher court to overrule the actions of a lower-court judge—on behalf of four young immigrants from Texas, Oklahoma and Florida who had previously benefited from DACA, but whose private information may now be at risk because of it. Two who spoke during a press briefing Friday said they handed over personal information to the feds believing it would remain confidential and would be used for no other purpose other than applying for the work permits.

“Now we're faced essentially with a contradiction,” said Juan Escalante, one of the petitioners from Tallahassee, Florida. “A judge in Texas is attempting to undermine the goodwill [of the] federal government, and we want everybody to understand that there are ramifications: Our lives, our safety, our identities are on the line.”

Given the anti-immigrant political climate fueled by this year's presidential race, Escalante said he was worried that the list could end up in the wrong hands. What if his family starts receiving threatening letters in the mail? What if somebody spewing hateful anti-immigrant sentiments shows up on his doorstep?

Another immigrant, Angelica Villalobos of Okalahoma, said that the purpose of Hanen's order appeared to be nothing more than to incite fear among the immigrant community: “The clear question that comes to mind is, how much longer will we allow a biased judge to have this chilling effect on our country?” she said.

The lawyers' writ is an emergency motion. They are asking the Fifth Circuit to release their decision by June 8, two days before Hanen may become the questionable keeper of an indeterminate amount of confidential information for questionable reasons.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn