TIME Congress

House Democrats Save DHS From Shutdown, Republicans From Themselves

With just hours to go before a midnight deadline, Congress passed a one-week extension to fund the Department of Homeland Security and prevent sending 30,000 government employees home on furlough.

The vote ended a tumultuous day in the House as Republican Speaker John Boehner and his aides lost control of their right flank, failing to deliver a three-week funding measure for the department and relying instead on Democrats to pass the one-week measure to avoid a DHS shutdown.

Boehner had hoped the three-week extension would buy his conference time to figure out how to protest immigration measures put forward by President Obama last year, without shutting down DHS. But his fellow Republicans turned on the bill and it failed by a handful of votes late in the afternoon.

The Senate, led by newly elected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then calmly passed a one-week extension of funding for the department and sent that bill back across the Capitol to the House. After House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke with Obama, House Democrats opted to vote with Boehner and the Republican leadership rather than allow funding for the department to fail.

The one-week extension in funding for DHS meant that McConnell could technically uphold his promise that there would be no government shutdowns under his leadership. But House conservatives effectively ended McConnell’s other major promise as leader: that the party would no longer be “scary.”

On the Senate side of the Capitol, the House disarray brought scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike. “Hopefully we’re gonna end the attaching of bullshit to essential items of the government,” Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s up for reelection in 2016, told TPM. “In the long-run, if you are blessed with the majority, you’re blessed with the power to govern. If you’re gonna govern, you have to act responsibly.”

The DHS fight originated in November, when Obama announced he would unilaterally, temporarily defer deportations for up to five million immigrants who came to the country illegally. While Republicans in Congress were furious at what they called the “unconstitutional” action, they were faced with few good options to effectively negate Obama’s executive actions.

Their best option emerged last week, when a federal judge in Texas ordered Obama to stop his action through an injunction. Still, some of the top legal experts in the country say the president’s actions are lawful. Some Republicans applauded the three-week plan put forward by Boehner Thursday night, saying that it gave time to highlight the ruling.

“America should have an opportunity to understand why we object to the president’s action [and] why a federal judge found that the president didn’t have the authority,” said California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa. “So the Speaker has offered a very reasoned way to create space in which to have that debate with the Senate.”

Other Republicans believe that the party should have just passed what the Democrats wanted, a so-called “clean” bill that would not have added immigration riders. “We’ve got him into an arena that is honestly better than the Capitol,” says Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole. “We can’t achieve a complete victory in Congress. We don’t have the Senate. The President does have a veto. But in the courts we actually could achieve it. … I actually would argue this is actually a little bit of a sideshow,” he added. “I think the decisive arena is the court.”

The backlash among conservatives caught Boehner and his aides by surprise. Republican Rep. Walter Jones reached into his pocket for a copy of the Constitution when asked Thursday night why he wouldn’t support the plan. “How can I support money going to a president who violated the Constitution,” he said. “We cave in all the time up here,” he added, referring to previous spending fights. In a closed-door meeting, Jones noted “strong feelings” on both sides of the conference. On one side he said were “those of us who feel so passionately about the Constitution.” On the other, he said, were “those from other parts of the United States that are more concerned about the terrorist attacks.”

The passage of the one-week bill represented the second time since December that Congress has punted on DHS funding and left Republicans with the question of how they can viably protest the president’s immigration actions without shutting down the agency.

That’s a challenge Boehner will now face in just one week — two weeks earlier than he had hoped.

TIME White House

Obama Tries to Stave Off Deportation Woes at Town Hall

President Barack Obama answers a question from the audience during an immigration town hall meeting and Telemundo interview at Florida International University in Miami on Feb. 25, 2015.
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama answers a question from the audience during an immigration town hall meeting and Telemundo interview at Florida International University in Miami on Feb. 25, 2015.

He called out Congress for stalled immigration policy but also shifted some of the blame to Americans who don’t vote

President Barack Obama did his best before an audience at Florida International University in Miami on Wednesday to reassure that his administration would be “as aggressive as we can” in the legal fight over his executive actions that would have given nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation.

Speaking to nearly 300 people, Obama used the platform as an opportunity to call out Congress for stalling on comprehensive reform that would offer a more permanent solution.

“Until we pass a law through Congress, the executive actions we’ve taken are not going to be permanent; they are temporary,” Obama said Wednesday, at a town hall hosted by Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart that aired in the evening. “Not only are we going to have to win this legal fight, but ultimately we’re still going to pass a law through Congress.”

But the audience seemed most concerned with what’s really at stake for immigrant families amid the squabble that’s put his executive actions in jeopardy. And Obama’s answers on that were less encouraging. In the wake of a Texas judge’s decision to temporarily block the executive order—which the administration appealed on Monday—Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have said that the judge’s order does not impact the administration’s ability to prioritize criminals and others who pose threats to national security for deportation.

Obama said Wednesday, however, that although his administration will focus on “criminals” and “potential felons,” there is no guarantee that everyone at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will have gotten the memo.

“There are going to be some jurisdictions and there may be individual ICE official or Border Control agent not paying attention to our new directives,” he acknowledged. “But they’re going to be answerable to the head of Homeland Security because he’s been very clear about what our priorities will be.”

There are reports that some ICE agents are already using the Texas’s judge’s order as a signal they don’t have to follow enforcement priorities. In fact, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice reports, one woman who has actively spoken out against the lawsuit against Obama’s executive action was subjected to wearing an ankle monitor at her last check-in.

The President also shifted some of the blame for stalled immigration policy to Americans who don’t vote.

“I’m willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk in the broke immigration system who still didn’t vote,” he said. “If we here in America voted at 60-to-70% it would transform our politics. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform.”

Wednesday’s town hall came amid the showdown in Congress over whether to use a bill aimed at funding the Department of Homeland Security as an opportunity to block Obama’s immigration action. If funding does not pass this week, the department could shut down. On that, Obama reiterated that Congress should pass a clean bill and challenge the action another way.

“In the short term if Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have [a] vote over whether what I’m doing is legal or not they can have that vote,” Obama said, adding that he would “veto that vote, because I’m absolutely confident that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he intends to do just that.

TIME Immigration

Dependent Spouses of Highly Skilled Immigrant Workers to Get Work Permits

The immigration reform will take effect at the end of May

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a major immigration reform on Tuesday, allowing spouses of individuals on the H-1B visa (known as H-4 dependent spouses) to apply for work permits.

The new rules were announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez and will take effect on May 26 this year, according to a government release.

“Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense,” Rodriguez said, adding that the move would incentivize highly skilled workers and their families to stay in the country long enough to acquire green cards.

The reforms, announced as part of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, were met with relief in countries like India, which sends a large number of workers into the U.S. tech industry while their spouses are unable to legally work.

“I miss my job, I miss my financial independence,” said software engineer Swapnil Gupta, who moved to the U.S. in 2011 with her husband, according to Reuters.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to what I love doing,” she added, calling the new regulations a “great relief.”

Read next: Why Congress Is Feuding With Obama Over the Homeland Security Budget

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

Why Congress Is Feuding With Obama Over the Homeland Security Budget

Jeh Johnson Holds News Conference On DHS Appropriations Bill
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson pauses during a news conference February 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama warned a gathering of state governors on Monday that the Department of Homeland Security would furlough tens of thousands of employees nationwide if Congress failed to replenish the agency’s funds by Friday.

“We can’t afford to play politics with our national security,” Obama said during a winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

But the political fight over Homeland Security funding shows no signs of letting up due to the hot-button politics of immigration. That was made clear Monday evening when a procedural vote that needs at least 60 senators to avoid the threat of a filibuster fell too short, with just 47 in support and 46 against. Here’s a refresher on how lawmakers got to this point:

Where’s the spending bill?

A bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security passed the House last month, with one essential caveat: None of the money could be used to implement Obama’s executive order to defer deportations of some 5 million undocumented immigrants. Imposed by House Republicans, that restriction is a non-starter for Senate Democrats, who have blocked the bill.

What happens if the agency doesn’t receive funding by Friday?

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the department would run out of funds by Friday, forcing it to furlough upwards of 30,000 DHS employees. Employees deemed essential to national security, who make up roughly 80 percent of the workforce, will continue to work without paychecks.

Are there any signs of compromise on the horizon?

Several prominent Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have broken rank in recent days, urging their counterparts to fund the agency without restraints and let the immigration fight play out in the courtroom. Last week, a Texas judge temporarily suspended Obama’s executive orders and ruled that states could challenge the administration’s immigration policy in court.

McCain hailed the decision as an “exit sign” for lawmakers, though lawmakers have yet to steer toward this off ramp in significant number. They may choose to punt on the issue instead, releasing a temporary spurt of funding for Homeland Security while girding for another round of debate.

TIME Oscars

These Four Policy Issues Got Our Attention at the Oscars

Hollywood is never shy about sharing its thoughts on politics, especially on Oscar night. But after the acceptance speeches fade, what happens next? Here’s a look at the status of several issues raised at the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night.

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood,” on Equal Pay

The issue: The Pew Research Center estimates that women earn 84 percent of what men earn, though the gender pay gap has narrowed since the 1980s. This is the rare issue that also affects Hollywood. The 10 highest-paid actors were paid $419 million in 2013 while their female counterparts earned $226 million, barely half as much.

What Arquette said: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

The outlook: Legislation introduced last year would have made it illegal for companies to retaliate against employees who share how much they make, a key step in ensuring men and women are paid equally. It failed to pass the Senate and is dead in the current Republican Congress. Some states, such as Vermont, are tackling the issue, however.

Common and John Legend, “Selma,” on Racial Justice in the U.S.

The issue: Racial disparities persist decades after the events depicted in Selma. In their acceptance speech, singers John Legend and Common highlighted two: the high rate of incarceration among black men and changes in voting rights laws, such as requirements that voters show government ID at polling stations.

What Legend said: “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today then were under slavery in 1850.”

The outlook: Protests over how police have handled black male suspects have given the cause momentum. The Eric Garner case helped inspire New York City officials to begin to rethink their approach to policing. Activists on the left and right are coming together to push for reforms to the criminal justice system, though voting rights legislation isn’t going anywhere in Congress.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, “Birdman,” on Immigration Reform

The issue: Immigration reform has been a hot button political issue for years. Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. and there’s widespread disagreement about how they should be addressed.

What Iñarritu said: “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can build the government that we deserve. And the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who come before and built this incredible nation.”

The outlook: Immigration reform is a thorny issue, and legislators in Washington repeatedly have had trouble finding common ground. President Obama took action on his own, taking executive actions providing temporary legal status to millions of immigrants. Still, those actions remain contested in court and Congress isn’t likely to do much on this issue.

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” on Veteran Suicide

The issue: Twenty-two veterans commit suicide everyday — a rate that more than double the rate in the general population. While the Veterans Affairs Department provides mental health services, mental health experts say many the veteran culture makes many hesitant to take advantage of the resources.

What Kent said: “This immense and incredible honor goes to the veterans and their families who are brave enough to ask for help.” What Perry said: “I want to dedicate this to my son Evan Perry, we lost him to suicide, we should talk about suicide out loud.”

The outlook: President Obama recently signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which creates an outreach system for veterans suffering from mental health issues and provides financial incentives to encourage psychiatric doctors to treat veterans. The law is a good start, but activists working to stem suicide say the issue requires more attention.

TIME Immigration

Feds Ask for Hold on Obama Immigration Action to Be Lifted

Barack Obama
Evan Vucci—AP President Barack Obama speaks in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2015.

If granted, Obama's immigration action would be allowed to go forward while the lawsuit proceeds through the courts

The U.S. government asked a federal judge Monday to lift his temporary hold on President Barack Obama’s action to shield millions of immigrants from deportation.

The Justice Department’s motion for a stay was filed with the court of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas.

Last week, Hanen issued a preliminary injunction sought by 26 states suing to halt the immigration action by Obama, who wants to spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. The states, led by Texas, have argued Obama’s action is unconstitutional and would force increased state investment in law enforcement, health care and education.

The Justice Department is asking Hanen to put his ruling on hold while the federal government appeals the decision. If the stay were to be granted, Obama’s immigration action would be allowed to go forward while the lawsuit proceeds through the courts.

Obama announced the executive action in November, saying lack of action by Congress forced him to make sweeping changes to immigration rules on his own. Republicans, who say Obama has overstepped his authority, are blocking funding for the Department of Homeland Security unless Democrats agree to cancel Obama’s order.

It is not unheard of for judges to delay rulings they have issued. Last year, a federal judge ruled Texas’ same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but put his decision on hold to allow the state to appeal. But legal experts say it is unlikely Hanen will put his ruling on hold, because he wrote in his 123-page court order that states would “suffer irreparable harm in this case” if Obama’s actions on immigration were to proceed while the lawsuit is argued.

“Based on (Hanen’s) language, it stands to reason that if you stay this order then those harms would start to accrue and that’s the whole point of him enjoining the order in the first place,” said Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a constitutional and immigration law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law in California.

The first of Obama’s orders — to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — had been set to start taking effect Feb. 18. The other major part of Obama’s order, which extends deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, was not expected to begin until May 19.

If Hanen denies the motion for a stay, the Justice Department was expected to take its request to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

But Lourdes Martinez, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco said the 5th Circuit is known to be fairly conservative, and is likely to also deny the request for a stay. The request for a stay could ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The stay request is separate from an appeal the federal government is expected to file with the 5th Circuit over Hanen’s ruling. That appeal, once filed, would likely take anywhere from four to nine months to be ruled upon, Gulasekaram said.

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Presidential Hopefuls Stay Out of Senate Fight on Immigration

Sen. Rubio (R-FL) Discusses Obama's Shift In Cuba Policy
T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reacts to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement about revising policies on U.S.-Cuba relations on December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The path to the White House does not lead through Congressional gridlock.

As Congress heads toward a showdown over immigration and the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the three Republican Senators who are considering running for president are staying on the sidelines.

Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hanging back from the fight, letting others like Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions lead the strategy and take the megaphone. Top national Republican strategists say that’s a smart move, given the difficulty of scoring a clean win in this legislative mess.

“The main disadvantage of being a sitting senator is that your opponents and the media force you to own every controversy during every legislative fight, even though some outcomes are usually out of your control,” said Kevin Madden, a senior aide in former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.

The Homeland Security funding fight is also a particularly bad one to champion. The current Republican strategy is to risk a shutdown of the agency in an attempt to force President Obama to override his own executive actions to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally. But many of the related programs are paid for by fees, which means a shutdown won’t affect them, while polls show the public will blame Republicans for a shutdown.

“This is working out exactly the way the President and Democrats want it to work out,” says Rob Jesmer, a top member of FWD.us, a pro-immigration reform group, and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“We’re not going to look very good,” he added of Republicans. “No one is going to look very good. The sooner this gets behind us the better it is.”

The fight has already caused headaches for one potential White House suitor. After he simply noted that Republicans don’t have enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill override Obama’s executive actions, Rubio faced headlines in conservative media that said he had “caved,” “folded” and “retreated,” even though he had stopped short of actually calling for a spending bill without conditions.

Paul and Cruz, meantime, haven’t paid any price back home for laying low.

Ray Sullivan, a chief of staff of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, says that Cruz faces “no negative ramifications” in the state by going bold on the immigration fight. “From my standpoint, most Texans didn’t notice the difference and appreciated the willingness to take principled stands to try to shrink the size and scope of the federal government,” he says of the 2013 government shutdown, in which Cruz played an outsized role.

“If you’re looking at it in the context of who’s going to be blamed, who’s fault is it and what’s the political ramifications of it, to me it’s clear: we’re here because of Obama, we’re here because of Senate Democrats,” says Scott Jennings, a top GOP consultant based out of Kentucky. “I would stay focused on Barack Obama. This is his fault, we’re here because of him.”

“I think that’s how people here in Kentucky view it,” he adds.

Paul, Cruz and Rubio have portrayed themselves as disrupters and outsiders who came to fix Washington. That message is reinforced by a hard-line position on Obama’s “executive overreach.” Even if the particular strategy is ineffective, voters may be more focused on a broader theme each of the prospective candidates presents. Madden, the Romney aide, notes that whatever image the candidate creates may be more important than any particular D.C. bout.

“Primary voters in early states that shape the presidential field respond more to their overall sense of where a candidate is on big issues,” says Madden. “Are they strong on national security? Smart and in touch on the economy? They tend to shape those opinions based on what they see and hear from candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of what’s taking place on the floor of the Senate.”

But the Homeland Security battle is a reminder of Washington’s “gridlock and breakdown,” according to Sullivan, and could help a governor candidate who not only takes principled stands but delivers results in his or her state.

“Members of Congress who are running or contemplating running for president will be weighted down by their association with Washington DC,” he says. “Our party has generally nominated governors who are far outside of the Beltway.”

TIME Congress

Homeland Security Goes on Offense for Fight With Congress

US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Obama Administration made a last-minute public plea for Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security, sending Secretary Jeh Johnson on a tour of political talk shows Sunday.

As the deadline approaches for the department’s funding, Johnson echoed the administration line that Congress should simply fund the department without conditions.

Republicans in Congress hoped to attach language to the funding bill that would override Obama’s decision to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally — an idea that both Senate Democrats and the president have rejected.

Johnson used appearances on all five Sunday morning political talk shows to press his case:

• On CNN’s State of the Union, he said it was “absurd that we are even having this conversation,” while noting that some 30,000 employees would have to be furloughed as a result of the fight.

• On Fox News Sunday, he called Congress’s effort to block the executive action on immigration through a funding fight is “unacceptable from a public safety, national security view.”

• On ABC’s This Week, he said funding the agency is “imperative” amid the new threats from terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, which this weekend reportedly threatened an attack on Minneapolis’s Mall of America.

• On CBS’s Face the Nation, he said things from cyber-security to the harsh conditions the nation would be affected if “headquarter staff is narrowed down to a skeleton.”

• On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said flat out, “we need Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” listing people and programs that would be placed in jeopardy if funding runs out on Friday.

The five talk-show effort — known in Beltway circles as the “full Ginsburg” after the first person to attempt it — was a sign of how seriously the White House intends to press its advantage on the dispute with Congress. Polls show the majority of Americans would blame Congress if the agency shuts down.

While that would be a public relations disaster, it’s unclear if it would really affect national security much.

The majority of Department of Homeland Security staff would still report for duty—from TSA agents at airports to the men and women of the Coast Guard—but they wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck.

Some Republicans have argued that they should call off the funding fight, given a Texas judge’s decision last week to temporarily block the Administration from going ahead with the deferrals.

Sen. John McCain called the Texas decision an “exit sign” on Face the Nation on Sunday, while Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Republicanson This Week to back the legal challenge to the executive action rather than blocking funding.

“The worst possible outcome for this nation would be to defund the Department of Homeland Security given the multiple threats we face to our homeland and I will not be part of that,” Graham said, adding that Republicans being the face of the partial shutdown would “add gasoline to the fire.”

TIME Immigration

Texas Judge at Center of Obama Case No Stranger to Border Fights

Immigration Lawsuit Andrew S. Hanen
Brad Doherty—Brownsville Herald/AP U.S. Southern District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, left, recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the United States Courthouse naming ceremony in Brownsville, Texas, Nov. 14, 2005.

Andrew S. Hanen went from big city lawyer to South Texas judge

A federal judge in Texas became the latest supporting player to take center stage in the nation’s ongoing immigration drama. But for U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, the southern border with Mexico has always played a starring role.

On Monday night, Hanen ordered the Obama Administration to stop a plan to defer deportations for up to 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally while a lawsuit filed by 26 states plays out in the courts. The order drew praise from many Republicans as well as criticism from opponents who quickly cast him as a “staunch critic” of the president’s immigration policy.

“[The deferred deportation program] does not represent mere inadequacy; it is complete abdication,” Hanen wrote. “The [Department of Homeland Security] does have discretion in the manner in which it chooses to fulfill the expressed will of Congress. It cannot, however, enact a program whereby it not only ignores the dictates of Congress, but actively acts to thwart them.”

Hanen is no stranger to the issues involved. For the last 12 years, the problems that have occupied not only the Rio Grande Valley, but the wider nation — drug trafficking, political corruption, border disputes and now, immigration — have been center stage in his South Texas courtroom. Hanen, an appointee of George W. Bush, has presided over high profile racketeering trials involving state and local officials, sat in judgment on a parade of smuggling and drug cases, and ridden herd over eminent domain lawsuits prompted by the federal government’s desire to build a fence along the Texas-Mexico border.

Attorneys who have practiced in his court told Texas Lawyer on Tuesday that Hanen, who was a respected civil litigation attorney with one of Houston’s establishment law firms before becoming a federal judge in 2002, is a well-liked conservative with a libertarian streak.

The tumult paraded into Hanen’s Brownsville courtroom is a far cry from the hushed, lush surroundings of his early career. After graduating first in his class at Baylor Law School in 1978, Hanen, known to friends as “Andy,” went to work as a briefing clerk for one of the most esteemed figures in Texas judicial history, Chief Justice Joe Greenhill, the longest-serving justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Greenhill was a Democrat, but then so were the overwhelming majority of officeholders and Texas leading lawyers in those days. The two became close enough that Hanen was one of the speakers at Greenhill’s memorial service in 2011. After a year of clerking, Hanen joined Andrews Kurth, a powerful Houston-based firm whose alumni include former U.S. Secretary of State and Bush family consigliere James Baker.

Hanen began donating to Republican candidates in the 1990s, contributing small sums to U.S. Senator Phil Gramm. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the federal bench, but he was never confirmed. The younger Bush tried again with more success; in May, 2002, Hanen was confirmed to the bench of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas by a 97-0 Senate vote.

Since then, close observers say Hanen’s tenure has often been marked by a concern for signs of government overreach. “Sure, he’s a conservative, but he also has what might be called a libertarian bent, certainly with regards to property rights,” says Terence M. Garrett, a professor of government at the University of Texas, Brownsville.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security filed hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits in an effort to build the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Hanen has traveled to many of the disputed properties to look over the land and examine issues like access to water rights along the river. In January, Texas Lawyer noted Hanen had the most unresolved cases, some 136, on his docket in the district, thanks, in large part, to the DHS cases.

In some of the cases, Garrett says, Hanen’s rulings slowed the agency’s rush to build the fence which, he adds, was an unpopular undertaking among Valley residents from both sides of the political fence. “He caused DHS to at least respect the law,” Garrett says. Hanen told Texas Lawyer he could move the cases along faster by ordering the landowners into court, but he had chosen not to: “The added problem is, as a judge, you could force these things to trial, but it’s not fair to the land owner. … To make them go to trial with a lawyer when they are in the midst of negotiating with the government would cost them more than they will ever receive.”

The realities of life in South Texas also have spilled over into other cases before Hanen, prompting him to castigate federal authorities in a California immigration case for releasing a Salvadoran felon convicted in his court, and criticizing DHS for what he characterized as completing the act of smuggling by reuniting children from Central America with parents in the U.S. illegally.

Those earlier rulings prompted supporters of President Obama’s immigration plan to charge the 26 states attorneys general suing to stop it were judge-shopping when they filed in Brownsville. Hanen responded by implying that his proximity to the border made him particularly well-suited to understand the stakes. “Talking to anyone in Brownsville about immigration is like talking to Noah about the flood,” he said in January.

Indeed, U.S. Border Patrol statistics illustrate the wave of arrivals. In fiscal year 2014, some 256,393 individuals crossed into the Rio Grande Valley sector in which Hanen works, accounting for 52.6% the total crossings along the entire southern border. From Oct. 1, 2014, to Jan. 31, 2015, some 6,434 “unaccompanied alien children” crossed in the Rio Grande Valley sector, down a little from the 7,198 in the same period a year earlier, but still the largest number along the southwest border running from Brownsville to Yuma, Ariz. And the Rio Grande Valley sector has the most drug smuggling cases and the second-most immigration cases involving abuse and other associated felonies, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Still, not all of the judge’s focus is on the border. In 2013, Hanen sentenced a state district judge, a state representative, a local district attorney and several plaintiffs’ attorneys to prison in a large racketeering scheme. Joel Androphy, a Houston defense attorney who has known Hanen since they were both active in the Houston Bar Association, represented one of the convicted.

“He’s not looking to become famous, he’s looking to do the right thing,” Androphy told Texas Lawyer, adding that he might not agree with him, but “I would trust his judgment.”

TIME Immigration

Obama Says the Law Is on His Side on Immigration

Obama Immigration
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images President Obama listens to a reporter's question in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 17, 2015

But plans have been put on hold for now

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the “law is on our side and history is on our side” when it comes to immigration, in defiant comments made shortly after his Administration temporarily halted its new immigration policy in response to a court ruling.

“This is not the first time where a lower court judge has blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately is going to be lawful and I’m confident that it is well within my authority,” Obama said in comments from the Oval Office with Attorney General Eric Holder.

A Texas judge ordered an injunction Monday against the President’s executive actions that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. The Department of Homeland Security then announced that it would halt plans to begin implementing Obama’s policy.

“We’re not going to disregard this federal court ruling. The law is the law in this country, and we take things a step at a time,” Obama said. “But we are doing the preparatory work because this is a big piece of business.”

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