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March 20, 2023

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Despite court ruling, immigration advocates still optimistic for Obama’s deportation relief plan

Immigration Lawsuit Protest

Immigration activists protest outside Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office in Las Vegas on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, over his decision to join a lawsuit challenging a federal deportation deferral plan.

President Barack Obama's deportation relief directive was dealt another blow in federal court today, but immigration advocates in Nevada say they remain hopeful that the plan will overcome its legal obstacles.

Today’s decision came from a panel of appellate judges in New Orleans who refused to lift a temporary hold on a presidential executive action that could shield tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Nevada. The U.S. Justice Department had asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to reverse a decision by a Texas judge who agreed to temporarily block the president's plan in February, after 26 states filed a lawsuit alleging Obama's action was unconstitutional. But two out of three judges on a court panel voted to deny the government's request.

"It was definitely disappointing, but we're still hopeful and we will keep fighting," said Karla Rodriguez of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "We know there will be a positive outcome at the end of our journey."

The states suing to block the plan, which include Nevada, argue that Obama acted outside his authority and that the changes would force them to invest more in law enforcement, health care and education. But the White House has said the president acted within his powers to fix a "broken immigration system."

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said the ruling is "another victory for our constitutional structure and the rule of law."

"There remains wide agreement that our immigration system must be fixed. However, that fix must occur in Congress — not by a unilateral action in the oval office," Laxalt said in a statement.

In Tuesday's ruling, 5th Circuit judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Walker Elrod denied the stay, saying in an opinion written by Smith that the federal government lawyers are unlikely to succeed on the merits of that appeal. Judge Stephen Higginson dissented.

“(The decision) wasn’t entirely one sided,” said Arlene Rivera, an attorney with the nonprofit Immigrant Justice Initiative. “It was just close enough that we hope next time things will swing in our favor.”

The president’s executive actions — controversially carried out without congressional approval — expanded a 2012 directive benefiting undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children, dubbed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They also created a similar program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents that would have granted aid for parents of people living in the U.S. legally.

The second program was scheduled to roll out last week, but the lawsuit stands in the way.

“I remain confident that the courts will overturn the original politically motivated decision and allow this important program to move forward,” Rep. Dina Titus said in a prepared statement. Titus has been the most outspoken Nevada Democrat supporting the president’s action, and she has urged immigrants to continue preparing paperwork to apply for the programs. “The federal appeals court’s decision leaves thousands of eligible families in Las Vegas at risk of being torn apart by the deportation process.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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