HOUSTON (AP) — The White House promised an appeal Tuesday after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration and gave a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit aiming to permanently stop the orders.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's decision late Monday puts on hold Obama's orders that could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. In response, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would halt preparations for a program to protect parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents until further notice.
In a memorandum accompanying his order, Hanen said the lawsuit should go forward and that the states would "suffer irreparable harm in this case" without a preliminary injunction.
"The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle," he wrote, adding that he agreed that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a "virtually irreversible" action.
In a statement early Tuesday, the White House defended the executive orders issued in November as within the president's legal authority, saying the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can establish priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
The White House said the U.S. Department of Justice will file an appeal, which will be heard by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department was reviewing the ruling and was confident the matter would ultimately be taken up by a higher court, possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We have to look at this decision for what it is: It is a decision by one federal district court judge," Holder said.
The first of Obama's orders — to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — was set to start taking effect Wednesday. The other major part of Obama's order, which extends deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, was not expected to begin until May 19.
Joaquin Guerra, political director of Texas Organizing Project, called the ruling a "temporary setback."
"We will continue getting immigrants ready to apply for administrative relief," he said in a statement. The nonprofit says it promotes social and economic equality for low to moderate income Texans.
The coalition of states, led by Texas and made up of mostly conservative states in the South and Midwest, argues that Obama has violated the "Take Care Clause" of the U.S. Constitution, which they say limits the scope of presidential power, and that his executive actions would be difficult to undo once immigrants started to apply for deferred action. They also say Obama's order would force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education.
House Speaker John Boehner said Monday's ruling wasn't a surprise and underscores that Obama acted beyond his authority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiments, adding that Obama has repeatedly acknowledged "he doesn't have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as 'ignoring the law' and 'unwise and unfair.'"
Both called on Senate Democrats to relent in their opposition to a Homeland Security Department spending bill that overturns Obama's action. The department's funding expires Feb. 27 and Congress has only a few legislative days to act.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the decision a "victory for the rule of law in America" in a statement late Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who led the state into the lawsuit when he was the state's attorney general, said Hanen's decision "rightly stops the President's overreach in its tracks."
Hanen, who's been on the federal court since 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush, regularly handles border cases but wasn't known for being outspoken on immigration until a 2013 case. In that case, Hanen suggested that Homeland Security should be arresting parents living in the U.S. illegally who induce their children to cross the border.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block Obama's actions by cutting off Homeland Security Department spending for the program. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a $39.7 billion spending bill to fund the department through the end of the budget year, but attached language to undo Obama's executive actions. The fate of that House-passed bill is unclear as Republicans in the Senate do not have the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation.
Among those supporting Obama's executive order is a group of 12 mostly liberal states, including Washington and California, as well as the District of Columbia. They filed a motion with Hanen in support of Obama, arguing the directives will substantially benefit states and will further the public interest.
A group of law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and more than 20 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, also filed a motion in support, arguing the executive action will improve public safety by encouraging cooperation between police and individuals with concerns about their immigration status.
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