The Obama administration scrambled to satisfy a Texas judge it shouldn’t be punished for violating his order freezing an executive action to loosen immigration rules.

At a hearing Wednesday in federal court in Brownsville, ambulance government lawyers repeatedly apologized to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen for mistakenly issuing 2, diagnosis 600 work permits after his order, and then making misleading statements on their compliance. Hanen froze the program after 26 states sued.

“We apologize for those miscommunications and regret them,’” James Gilligan, a Justice Department attorney, told Hanen. “They were inadvertent and unintended.”

“But they were repeated,” said Hanen.

Gilligan replied that the government responded immediately once it realized it had misled the judge about the permits.

“We weren’t trying to hide anything from the court in the first place,” Gilligan said. The administration said it has recovered all but 12 of the 2,600 permits.

The White House has submitted multiple reports to Hanen detailing extensive efforts to recover the permits. Agents have repeatedly texted, called and e-mailed immigrants to turn in their improper papers, with federal agents following up door-to- door to retrieve stragglers, the government said.

The states suing to block the program pressed Hanen to expand the government’s recovery campaign to include 108,000 work permits issued before Hanen’s freeze order.

Hanen, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, gave both sides until Sept. 4 to suggest what punishment he should impose on the Obama administration if he decides he was intentionally misled.

“I can just do nothing,” the judge told the lawyers. Or he could force immigration officials to disclose the names and locations of the 108,000 immigrants so their permits can be clawed back, either by the U.S. or the states.

Angela Colmenero, Texas’s lead lawyer, said the states prefer learning the identities and whereabouts of immigrants who may be using the permits to collect government benefits.

“The government should go back and unwind these benefits,” Colmenero said. “Every year those permits remain on the books, there are individuals seeking those benefits from the states.”

Obama’s initiative is designed to shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provide work permits. Immigrants must be the parent of an American citizen and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years or have been brought here themselves as children. They must also pass a criminal background check to qualify

The White House has challenged Hanen’s freeze order in a bid to get the program up and running before Obama leaves office. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans hasn’t yet ruled on the request.

By Bloomberg News

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