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Federal Appeals Court Leaves Hold On Obama's Immigration Orders

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will not lift a hold that has stalled President Obama's plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The president sought to give temporary protection to people who were brought to the U.S. as children, and to the parents of people who live in the U.S. legally.

The decision blocks an executive action the White House issued late last year and leaves in place a hold that was issued in February by District Judge Andrew Hanen in South Texas.

Update at 4:35 p.m. ET: White House Evaluating Options

The Department of Justice is evaluating possible next steps after Tuesday's ruling. Of the decision, White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine says:

"Today, two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misinterpret the facts and the law in denying the government's request for a stay. As the powerful dissent from Judge Higginson recognizes, President Obama's immigration executive actions are fully consistent with the law."

The administration says Obama acted legally and correctly in taking action.

Saying a quick resolution is important to the White House, University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias tells us, "I expect a swift appeal" to the Supreme Court.

Our original post continues:

The president had sought to expand the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But Texas and other states said the new policy would place a financial burden on them, citing the cost of issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who would have new legal standing.

From Tuesday's opinion:

"The flaw in the government's reasoning is that Texas's forced choice between incurring costs and changing its fee structure is itself an injury: A plaintiff suffers an injury even if it can avoid that injury by incurring other costs. And being pressured to change state law constitutes an injury."

Last month, the court heard arguments from the Obama administration and from attorneys representing a coalition of 26 states that filed a lawsuit over the immigration orders. The president's actions were initially blocked to give states time to make their case.

The court wrote:

"Because the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction, we deny the motion for stay and the request to narrow the scope of the injunction."

The three judges on the appeals court panel that decided the issue include one Obama appointee — Judge Stephen Higginson — along with George W. Bush appointee Judge Jennifer Elrod and Reagan appointee Jerry Smith.

In his dissent, Judge Higginson writes, "Congress could, but has not, removed discretion from DHS as to which undocumented immigrants to apprehend and remove first." He later added, "I would say DHS is adhering to law, not
derogating from it" — and he concluded, "I would not affirm intervention and judicial fiat ordering what Congress has never mandated."

As NPR's Richard Gonzales has reported for the Two-Way, the legal issues range from states' roles in setting and enforcing immigration policy to amnesty and asylum requests.

The Obama administration now has the option of requesting an en banc hearing, which would include all of the appeals court's judges, or taking the matter to the Supreme Court.

Reporting on the initial ruling in February, Richard also noted, "there are 12 states, the District of Columbia and 33 mayors across the country who are supporting the Obama administration" because they want workers who are in the U.S. illegally to work legitimate jobs and pay taxes.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.