Fresh Obama legal setback: White House won't seek Supreme Court intervention on immigration block

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on May 25, 2015Reuters

The Obama administration decided not to contest an appellate court ruling against the President's effort to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, with the Justice Department issuing a statement on Wednesday saying it will not seek a Supreme Court intervention.

The Justice Department issued the statement a day after the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in favour of 26 states challenging Obama's executive action on immigration, Reuters reported.

Obama's immigration order was first put on hold by Texas Judge Andrew Hanen in February after the states, all headed by Republican governors, argued that allowing millions of migrants to settle in the US would pose a huge and unwarranted burden on the nation.

The Obama administration is scheduled to file its appeal to the 5th Circuit in July.

Explaining the administration's response to the court ruling, a White House official said the President does not want to add to the confusion surrounding the status of his immigration program by seeking a Supreme Court stay at this time.

However, the official said the Obama administration reserves the right to go to the Supreme Court after the 5th Circuit rules on its appeal.

A total of 26 US states sued the US government last December against the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that could provide temporary relief from deportation to about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the US.

The Obama administration appeared stung by the appellate court's ruling with White House spokesman Brandi Hoffline saying President Obama's actions were "squarely within the bounds of his authority."

"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," she said.

The suing states, all led by Republican governors, said Obama's immigration actions overstepped the law.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the suing states "have shown that issuance of the stay will substantially injure' them."

"A stay would enable DAPA beneficiaries to apply for driver's licenses and other benefits, and it would be difficult for the states to retract those benefits or recoup their costs even if they won on the merits," it said, citing Texas where at least 500,000 are potential beneficiaries of the immigration programs.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said with the new ruling, "The President's attempt to bypass the will of the American people was successfully checked again today."

However, Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said the ruling "is indefensible, and we remain confident that the majority's legal reasoning will not stand."

He said federal courts have long recognized that the executive branch has the authority to set enforcement priorities, adding that since 1956, every US president has granted temporary immigration relief from deportation.

"Judge Stephen A. Higginson, in his dissent, got it right when he called out the 'political nature of this dispute' and argued that the courts have no role to play here. The courts simply cannot be a venue for anyone who disagrees with a President's policy choice," he said.

He said every day that the DAPA and expanded DACA implementation is delayed, families are forced to live in uncertainty and under constant threat of possible deportation.

"Finally, today's decision serves as reminder that broader, permanent reform is needed. Congress must do its job to enact immigration legislation that provides undocumented immigrants a full and meaningful shot at citizenship, helps the United States grow its economic prosperity, and reflects our proud history as a nation of immigrants," he said.

The Department of Homeland Security tried to minimize the impact of the appellate court's ruling, saying it has no effect on some components of Obama's executive action, including revised enforcement guidelines that instruct law enforcers to prioritize criminals and newly arrived immigrants over those with clean records and ties to the United States.