The U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal judge to put on hold his ruling that temporarily blocks President Obama's executive action that would protect more than 4 million people in this country illegally from the threat of deportation.

In its motion to stay, the Justice Department said U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen "lacked authority to issue the preliminary injunction."

Justice Department officials also filed an appeal of Hanen's decision and asked that the executive action move forward while the appeals process is underway.

Hanen issued the temporary injunction on Feb. 16 as a result of a lawsuit brought by 26 states. At the time, NPR's Richard Gonzales notes, the states argued that the president's immigration plan caused them dramatic and irreparable injuries, such as paying for border security.

President Obama announced his executive action in November, saying delays by Congress were forcing him to unilaterally address immigration rules.

Congressional Republicans are deeply opposed to the immigration plan, saying it is unconstitutional and that Obama has overstepped his boundaries. They are threatening to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security unless Democrats agree to cancel the president's order. Funding for the department is due to run out on Friday.

The Justice Department says a stay pending appeal is necessary to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is able to most effectively protect national security, public safety and the integrity of the border.

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