The U.S. Justice Department will seek an emergency stay to block a decision by a federal judge and allow eligible immigrants to apply for benefits granted under President Barack Obama's recent executive actions, the White House said on Friday.
Immigration advocates have called on the Obama administration to take legal step to reverse the injunction issued in Texas on Monday that barred immigration officials from accepting work permit applications under the orders.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the Justice Department will file paperwork requesting the stay by Monday.
But the stay must be approved by the same judge who issued the injunction, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville Texas, potentially creating more headaches for the White House.
The Justice Department is concerned that Hanen not only could deny the stay but drag his feet in making a decision. Doing so would delay the filing of a formal appeal in the 5th Circuit, something that would take the case out of Hanen's hands.
Approximately 4.7 million undocumented immigrants could be granted a reprieve from deportation and work permits under Obama's immigration orders if they are allowed to proceed.
As Congress returns from a week-long break, Republicans, who argue that Obama's plans represent illegal "amnesty," resume debate on a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that seeks to ban any spending on implementation of the orders.
Senate Democrats are insisting on a "clean" DHS funding bill free of such restrictions as a Feb. 27 deadline to renew DHS funding fast approaches with little sign of movement.
Earnest said Congress should do the "right and responsible thing" to ensure that DHS, which secures U.S. borders, airports, coastal waters and other critical facilities, does not run out of funds.
Asked about the possibility of a short-term extension of funding at current levels as a stop-gap, he said he could not react to specific proposals. But Earnest said lawmakers should consider the plight of Transportation Security Administration officers who ensure that their flights back to Washington are safe and who would have to work without pay if DHS funding expires.
"I hope that they are going to take a minute and look in the eye of TSA officers," Earnest said. "They’re not going to get paid on time unless members of Congress step up and do their jobs."
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Additional reporting by David Lawder and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Eric Beech and Leslie Adler)