Recently, there have been some victories by way of upholding the US Constitution in the wake of the Trump Administration’s lawless attempts to limit immigration and install Trump’s long promised Border Wall. The first case, filed in El Paso covers Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency to re-distribute funds to construct his wall (in January 2019) and the second case addresses Trump’s proposed changes to the path to citizenship for Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders).
El Paso County v Trump
Protect Democracy represented the county of El Paso, Texas and the Border Network for Human Rights in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over the declaration of a national emergency to fund the construction of a border wall along the US Southern Border earlier this year. They sought and were granted an injunction to block the declaration from taking effect. An injunction is a legal remedy in the form of a court order that obligates a party to do or refrain from doing certain acts. This lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso. The plaintiffs claimed Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency if Congress did not allocate funding for his border wall usurped the Constitutional Authority that Congress has and thus is inconsistent with the US Constitution’s separation of powers.
They also claimed that Trump’s demonization of Latino immigrants as sources of crime, drugs and violence has caused harm to immigrant communities and communities of color throughout the US and depicts Trump as an autocrat.
Inglis v South Carolina
In October 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced potential changes to the naturalization process that could present barriers to citizenship for 10,000+ non-wealthy applicants annually. Protect Democracy and several other organizations filed a lawsuit in California on behalf of the communities who would be harmed by the proposed changes.
In November, the plaintiffs asked a federal court to immediately ban USCIS from implementing changes until the pending lawsuit was resolved. They additionally asked the court to find Ken Cucinelli’s installation as the current acting Head of USCIS unlawful, therefore making the changes invalid. Cucinelli’s installation was allegedly unlawful because it violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) that governs the process for filling vacant executive branch positions usually subject to Senate confirmation. Under the FVRA any incoming acting secretary would need to be the natural next in line, like a deputy, be previously Senate-confirmed for another job, or have been working at the department 90 days of the 365 days prior to the last confirmed secretary’s departure. Cucinelli does not meet any of these requirements.
In early December, a judge from the Northern District of California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring USCIS from implementing the proposed changes.
These court victories are a positive step in upholding the US Constitution and legal system in the face of a presidency with autocratic tendencies. In both Inglis v South Carolina and El Paso County v Trump, the emphasis on maintaining checks on the Executive Branch sends an important message about American democracy and enforces the notion that Americans will use the full extent of the law to ensure their rights are not infringed upon or abused.
President Trump has made several statements, carried out actions and used alarming rhetoric – in regard to immigration and other sectors of US politics – that contain autocratic auras. Fortunately there are still measures in place, such as the Federal court system, that can check excess use of power in the executive branch.
- The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
- Protect Democracy: a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to fighting domestic and international attacks to free, fair and fully formed self-government
- Border Network for Human Rights: network to engage education, organization and participation of border communities to defend human rights and work towards a society where everyone is equal in rights and dignity.
Photo by Aditya Joshi