Justice asks court to lift hold on Obama immigration actions

The Justice Department is asking a federal appeals court to lift a lower court’s hold on President Obama’s latest executive actions on immigration, upping its push to lift a court order blocking the controversial programs.

Obama’s actions from late last year would shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, and provoked a standoff in February with the Republican Congress over funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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The move shows that White House isn’t willing to wait for the lower court to act. And appealing to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is the next step in the path towards the potentially landmark case ending up at the Supreme Court.

“The district court’s order is unprecedented and wrong,” the Justice Department writes in its appeal to the Fifth Circuit.

“The preliminary injunction is a sweeping order that extends beyond the parties before the court and irreparably harms the Government and the public interest by preventing DHS from marshalling its resources to protect border security, public safety and national security, while also addressing humanitarian interests.”

The case has, until now, been dealt with in a federal district court in Texas. But this move elevates the case to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in New Orleans.

The district court blocked the president’s immigration actions, which seek to delay deportation for millions of illegal immigrants and provide them with access to work permits, back in February. Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling halted the DHS from enacting the new policies until courts could rule on whether the measures are constitutional. 

The Justice Department's latest filing seeks to bypass Hanen and get the Fifth Circuit to remove the court's stay, a legal procedure that blocks future action until a later court ruling. 

The new appeal from the administration echoes previous court documents that have characterized the suit as infringing on the president’s power to prioritize deportations. It also slams Hanen for applying his ruling to the program as a whole, instead of limiting it to the areas where he has jurisdiction.

But a group of 26 states, led by Texas, argues Obama is overreaching and rewriting federal laws from the Oval Office.

Immigration groups immediately applauded the move, as many have encouraged the White House to aggressively push to implement the deportation relief program and have clashed with the White House in the past over immigration.

"This filing rightly recognizes that our communities are robbed of the opportunity to live free from fear of deportation and our economy is deprived of much-needed fiscal benefits with each day that this injunction remains in place," Marielena Hincapié, the National Immigration Law Center's executive director, said in a statement.

"The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but that’s no reason to allow people and our economy to suffer while this case makes its way through the courts. 

Some states have come to the administration's defense. A group of 14 states, plus D.C., filed an amicus brief in support of lifting the federal judge's hold on the immigration policies. That comes after a similar group filed a brief supporting the policies in the initial case

While the Justice Department immediately asked Hanen to lift his temporary delay, he said the court will not consider it until a hearing March 19.  The administration is expected at that hearing to explain why it processed 100,000 extended work permit renewals for illegal immigrants under new policies announced by the president. 

DHS has contended that those policy chances were announced back in November and were not halted until the judges order. But Texas, the lead plaintiff in the case against the government, has accused the Obama administration of misleading the court, as officials had said the major policies wouldn’t go into effect until late February and March.

-Jordan Fabian contributed.

Updated at 3:45 p.m.