If the government lawyers fail in their bid to reverse the judge's preliminary injunction, Mr. Obama's immigration efforts could remain in legal limbo for months, raising doubts about whether the policies will be carried out before the president leaves office.Despite the temporary injunction, immigration rights activists pleaded undocumented people who could benefit from either one of the programs to continue plans to apply—from gathering documents to raising money to cover filing costs.
The rare hearing before a three-judge panel allowed lawyers for both sides to make their cases publicly. In most similar cases, legal experts said, appeals courts make decisions based solely on written briefs. In the high-profile case, however, each side had one hour to argue—twice the amount of time generally provided to lawyers in Supreme Court cases.
Lawyers for Mr. Obama insisted that the states have no right to challenge the executive actions because they will suffer no direct harm if the moves are carried out. They asked the appeals court to lift the preliminary injunction while the legal case proceeds.
If the appeals court lifts Judge Hanen's injunction, administration officials could quickly move to carry out the executive actions. That would mean that millions of undocumented immigrants could soon begin applying for protection under a program that would allow them to remain in the country legally but would not provide a path to citizenship.
Opponents could still seek to block the actions by appealing to the Supreme Court. And even if the programs move ahead, the underlying legal challenge could still continue in Texas. Briefs on the merits of the challenge are due in mid-May, and an initial hearing could come in June.