By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court decision that blocked President Barack Obama's executive actions aimed at protecting millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.
The Justice Department is appealing a 2-1 decision on Nov. 9 by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed a lower court's decision to halt Obama's steps that were announced in November 2014.
Obama's executive orders would let up to 4.7 million illegal immigrants live in the United States without the threat of deportation. It was directed at people with no criminal records whose children are U.S. citizens.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in the petition that the Supreme Court should hear the case because the appeals court "upheld an unprecedented nationwide injunction against implementing a federal immigration enforcement policy of great national importance."
If left intact, the ruling would "allow states to frustrate the federal government's enforcement of the nation's immigration laws," Verrilli added.
Millions of people would "continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families," he said.
The legal challenge to Obama's actions was made by 26 Republican-governed states that contend Obama overstepped his presidential powers by bypassing the Republican-led Congress and acting unilaterally.
If the justices act promptly on the appeal, there is time for the case to be heard during the court's current term, which runs through June. If the court agrees to hear the case this term, the justices would issue a ruling during the run-up to the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)