WASHINGTON — The Justice Department fired back at a Texas judge Tuesday, asserting that a previous order requiring the government to disclose personal information on tens of thousands of immigrants who qualified for protective status as parents of American-born children would represent an "unprecedented breach'' of trust.
In court papers, the government also sought to block U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's directive earlier this month that department lawyers attend ethics classes as punishment for allegedly misleading the court about when President Obama's disputed executive actions on immigration had begun shielding some illegal immigrants from deportation.
The sweeping order, which Justice lawyers described as "far exceeding'' the judge's authority, also would cost the government millions of dollars to execute, the government argued.
"First, the order risks injury to tens of thousands of third parties who were brought to this country as children,'' the government argued. "The urgency of providing private information about these 50,000 individuals is also unexplained. ... In addition to the injury to these persons risked by the disclosure of their sensitive personal information, requiring the United States to produce that information to the court and potentially to the states would deter aliens from providing the government with personal information that is critical to the administration and enforcement of immigration laws in any number of circumstances.''
Hanen, who issued an injunction blocking the executive actions as part of a lawsuit filed by 26 states, said that thousands of immigrants were granted protective status even though government lawyers had told Hanen that the program had not yet begun. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the states' lawsuit is pending.
In an unusual 28-page order, Hanen asserted that government lawyers intentionally misled the court on the timing of the immigration actions and sought to emphasize the point by quoting dialogue from the movie Miracle on 34th Street.
"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,'' the judge stated.
Justice spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said Tuesday that there was no evidence to support the court's claim that government lawyers engaged in "bad-faith misconduct.''
"The department emphatically disagrees with the sanctions orders and will seek review of this matter in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals,'' Rodenbush said in a written statement.
Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus, in an affidavit attached to Justice's Tuesday court filing, said compliance with the judge's order for additional ethics training alone would cover an estimated 3,400 Justice lawyers and cost nearly $8 million.
Hanen responded late Tuesday with a two-sentence order, setting a hearing on the matter for 10 a.m., June 7.
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