A federal appeals court refused Tuesday to lift a temporary hold on President Barack Obama's executive action that could shield as many as 5 million immigrants illegally living in the U.S. from deportation.
The U.S. Justice Department had asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a Texas judge who agreed to temporarily block the president's plan in February, after 26 states filed a lawsuit alleging Obama's action was unconstitutional. But on a two-one vote, a panel of the court denied the government's request.
It wasn't immediately clear if the government would appeal, either to the full appeals court in New Orleans or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The states suing to block the plan, led by Texas, argue that Obama acted outside his authority and that the changes would force them to invest more in law enforcement, health care and education. But the White House has said the president acted within his powers to fix a "broken immigration system."
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sided with the states and, from his court in Brownsville, Texas, issued a temporary injunction on Feb. 16 to block the plan from taking effect while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.
Justice Department lawyers sought a stay while they appealed the injunction. They argued that keeping the temporary hold interfered with the Homeland Security Department's ability to protect the U.S. and secure the nation's borders. They also said immigration policy is a domain of the federal government, not the states.
But, in Tuesday's ruling, 5th Circuit judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Walker Elrod denied the stay, saying in an opinion written by Smith, that the federal government lawyers are unlikely to succeed on the merits of that appeal. Judge Stephen Higginson dissented.