A federal judge has granted a request by 26 states to temporarily block President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration, allowing a lawsuit aimed at permanently stopping the orders to make its way through the courts.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen granted the preliminary injunction Monday after hearing arguments in Brownsville, Texas last month. He wrote in a memorandum accompanying his order that the lawsuit should go forward and that without a preliminary injunction the states will "suffer irreparable harm in this case."
"The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle," he wrote, adding that he agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a "virtually irreversible" action.
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.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in a statement, reiterated the administration's position that Obama's executive actions were within the bounds of the law -- and indicated they would appeal.
"The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws-which is exactly what the President did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system," Earnest said, later adding "The district court's decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision."
An appeal by the administration would be handled by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
House and Senate Republican leaders pointed to the judge's decision in amplifying calls to advance a stalled bill that would both fund the Homeland Security department and undo Obama's immigration plan. The GOP-authored bill passed the House, but is stuck in the Senate. "This ruling underscores what the President has already acknowledged publicly 22 times: He doesn't have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as 'ignoring the law' and 'unwise and unfair,'" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "Senate Democrats -- especially those who've voiced opposition to the President's executive overreach -- should end their partisan filibuster of Department of Homeland Security funding."
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 his ruling in that case, Hanen suggested the Homeland Security Department should be arresting parents living in the U.S. illegally who induce their children to cross the border illegally.
The coalition, 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. They also say the order will force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education.
"Judge Hanen's decision rightly stops the President's overreach in its tracks," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.
In their request for the injunction, the coalition said it was necessary because it would be "difficult or impossible to undo the President's lawlessness after the Defendants start granting applications for deferred action."
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block Obama's actions on immigration 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 are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation.
Others supporting Obama's executive order include 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.