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Justice Dept. to seek stay of immigration ruling

A protester holds an American flag as well as a L.U.P.E flag as she chants in to her megaphone outside of the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, Tuesday. (Yvette Vela/AP)

The Justice Department will seek a stay of an order by a federal judge in Texas that blocked the Obama administration’s plan to provide relief to thousands of illegal immigrants.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the stay request will be filed in District Court no later than Monday.

After the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen Monday night, Justice officials immediately said they would appeal the order. They will ask for a stay while they prepare the appeal. The administration believes that if a stay is granted, the government can begin accepting applications for the program.

“We will seek that appeal because we believe that when you evaluate the legal merits of the argument, that there is a solid legal foundation for the president to take the steps that he announced late last year to reform our broken immigration system,” Earnest said. “That’s consistent with the way that previous presidents over the course of several decades have used their executive authority. And that is why we are going to continue to pursue this case in the legal system. “

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called the judge’s ruling “an interim step in a process that has more to play out.”

The new governor delivers his first State of the State address, leaders react to a court's decision on the president's immigration order and a county judge in Texas rules the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (Video: Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn/Texas Tribune)

"I think we have to look at this decision for what it is," Holder said in comments after a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington. "It is a decision by one federal district court judge. I have always expected this is a matter that will be ultimately decided by a higher court, if not the Supreme Court, then a federal court of appeals."

President Obama’s new immigration program was set to begin receiving applications this week from illegal immigrants hoping for relief from deportation. Obama issued his “deferred action” immigration orders shortly after the midterm elections in November, saying that he couldn’t wait on Congress to reform laws that have left more than 11 million illegal immigrants in limbo. An effort to pass an immigration bill failed last summer.

Twenty-six states sued the federal government, challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s action, which is projected to benefit as many as 5 million immigrants, many of whom could receive work permits if they qualified. Hanen did not rule on the constitutionality of Obama’s order, but he said there was merit to suspend the new program while the case goes forward.

Speaking at the Democratic National Committee’s 2015 winter meeting in Washington on Friday, Obama mocked Republicans as being out of touch, including on immigration.

“If you want to be the party that’s paving the way for people to get into the middle class, a good way to start is stop trying to strip health insurance for millions of Americans and preventive and contraceptive care for millions of women,” he said. “And stop trying to deport millions of striving young kids who just want to earn their shot at the American dream like the rest of us. Help us fix a broken immigration system.”

Speaking to roughly 355 DNC members at the Hyatt Regency in Capitol Hill, Obama warned that in the fight between Democrats and Republicans over policy, “This is not just a sports contest.”

“It’s about doing things that make people’s lives better,” he said. “It’s about doing things that make us confident that America will continue on this upward trajectory that began so many years ago. It’s about making this nation we love more perfect.”

The president’s reference to his affection for the country was notable, given that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani sparked a public uproar this week after commenting at a private dinner Wednesday, “I do not believe — and I know this is a horrible thing to say — but I do not believe that the president loves America.” On Thursday, Giuliani challenged a New York Times reporter to find an example of Obama professing his love for the United States.

Congressional Republicans noted Friday that the president was addressing members of a party that had taken a beating at state and national levels since he won the White House.

“There’s a reason why the Democratic Party has lost the House, the Senate, governorships, and more than 900 state legislative seats in recent years,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement. “President Obama’s liberal agenda has left America’s working class families behind.”

Obama — who also attended a closed session with about 25 supporters, each of whom gave $33,400 to the DNC — said that while he welcomed Republicans’ rhetoric on the challenges facing the middle class, they would have deliver on the promises.

"So I'm encouraged that they're speaking about middle class and — and speaking about wages. But there is this old saying that you can't just talk the talk," he said. "You got to walk the walk. We've been walking the walk. And if Republicans are serious about taking on the specific challenges that face the middle class, if they are prepared to walk the walk, we should welcome them. I'll welcome their ideas."