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Feds ask appeals court to let immigration plan proceed

The Obama administration Thursday asked a federal appeals court to do what a Texas-based judge didn’t: allow a controversial immigration program to move forward while the issue plays out in the courts.

Attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice filed an emergency motion asking the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a temporary halt to a federal immigration program that was issued by Brownsville-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in February.

Obama’s executive action, which he announced in November, would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to apply for a work permit and a reprieve from deportation. Texas was the first state to sue to stop the program, and 25 others have since signed on to the lawsuit.

Last month, the Obama administration asked Hanen to lift his own order. But in an order issued on Monday, Hanen said he wasn’t going to address the issue until the administration explained why it apparently issued 100,000 work permits before the immigration program was set to begin. A hearing on that issue was scheduled for March 19.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the question about whether the administration jumped the gun on the program and misled the federal court about its actions is the most urgent matter to resolve.

"President Obama’s unconstitutional use of executive power to accomplish what he couldn’t do in Congress sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the fabric of our Republic," Paxton said in a statement. "The most pressing issue at hand is the extent to which the Obama Administration has already issued expanded work permits to illegal immigrants, in direct contradiction to what they told the district court."

In the request filed with the appeals court Thursday, the administration argues that Hanen’s ruling was wrong because immigration enforcement falls under the purview of the federal government. Individual states had no right to infringe on that right, federal officials argue.

“Yet the district court has taken the extraordinary step of allowing a State to override the United States’ exercise of its enforcement discretion in the immigration laws,” the filing reads.

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Federal officials also argue that preventing the program from moving forward will interfere with other immigration-enforcement operations that are essential to the country’s security.

“In light of the urgent circumstances and critical federal interests at issue, including the need to protect national security, public safety, and the integrity of the border, the Government now seeks a stay from this Court,” the filing reads.

The Department of Justice urged the appeals court to rule within two weeks.

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Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

President Barack Obama in a speech to Texas Democrats at the Paramount Theater in Austin on July 10.