The Obama administration moved Monday to reverse a federal judge's order in Texas that blocked a White House plan to shield up to 5 million immigrants from deportation.
In a court filing in Brownsville, Texas, the government urged U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen to lift his own injunction and allow President Obama's immigration initiatives to proceed. Those initiatives would offer immigrants in the country illegally the chance to apply for a three-year permit to stay and work on U.S. soil if they met certain criteria.
"Leaving the injunction in place would work immense harm to the public interest by undermining … efforts to encourage illegal aliens with significant ties to the community and no serious criminal record to come out of the shadows and to request the ability to work legally," the motion says.
The administration argued that Texas and 25 other states that sued the government had no legal standing to interfere in federal enforcement of immigration law.
Hanen's ruling already has disrupted the government's effort to prepare for an expected onslaught of applications. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service had leased an office center in northern Virginia, and asked contractors to submit bids to supply records services by Monday.
That contract was canceled Friday, as the program ground to a halt.
Obama had invoked his executive authority when he announced the deportation waiver program in November, saying he was tired of waiting for Congress to reform the immigration system.
The 26 states challenged Obama's actions in court. Last week, hours before the application process was scheduled to start, Hanen issued an injunction that barred implementation of the programs, agreeing with the states that Obama had outstripped his constitutional powers.
The administration asked Hanen to stay his own order while the government appealed his ruling.
The largest part of the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, would protect an estimated 4 million immigrants from deportation if they can prove they have lived in the U.S. for five years, or are parents of citizens or legal residents. Applicants with serious criminal records are not eligible.
Hanen is considered unlikely to lift his own preliminary injunction, but officials said the administration was trying to send a message of urgency to the courts and to reassure immigration advocates who have been pressing for quick action to put the waivers back on track.
Government lawyers asked Hanen to rule by Wednesday. Obama is scheduled to address a Miami town hall meeting on immigration that night.
But an attorney for Texas argued that Hanen had no reason to rush. If the case really were urgent, the government would not have waited a week to file an appeal, Texas Assistant Atty. Gen. Angela Colmenero wrote in a letter filed with the court.
She said the 26 states should get at least a week to respond to the administration's request.
The case will ultimately turn on how federal courts resolve competing constitutional arguments about separation of powers.
"What we had here is a situation where the president has violated the rule of law and really contradicted the Constitution by actually making up the law and imposing his own standards on the immigration system," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." He predicted the Supreme Court ultimately would resolve the case.
The administration filing argues that decisions on who should be deported should be made by the Homeland Security Department, not the states or courts. Otherwise, it says, states could "challenge countless individual decisions to grant immigration relief or status."
With less than two years remaining in Obama's term, the White House hopes to avoid a long court battle. Applications for an earlier program, covering immigrants who arrived here as children, took five to six months to get through the system, the filing says.
Separately, the Republican-controlled Congress is trying to block Obama's immigration actions with a Homeland Security funding bill. The House has already passed the measure, but on Monday the Senate failed, for the fourth time, to advance it on a procedural vote. The department's funding is set to run out after Friday.