By Joseph Tanfani

The Obama administration is seeking to block a federal judge's ruling last week that halted programs intended to grant deportation waivers to up to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The motion, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, said a delay in implementing President Barack Obama's efforts to offer legal protection to qualified immigrants would cause "irreparable harm" even if the administration ultimately wins the legal case on appeal.

"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," the filing states.

The motion seeks to overturn a preliminary injunction issued last week by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen just as the new immigration programs were about to begin. The motion asks Hanen to decide whether to grant the stay by Wednesday.

Hanen ruled Feb. 16 that Obama exceeded his legal authority when he announced in November he would provide immigrants the opportunity to stay in the United States for three years, without fear of deportation, if they met certain criteria.

Twenty-six states challenged Obama's actions in the court case.

The administration also filed a notice of appeal of Hanen's ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Legal experts say Hanen is unlikely to overrule his own preliminary injunction. By seeking a stay, the administration is trying to send a message of urgency to the courts and to immigration advocates who are pressing for quick action to get the deportation waivers back on track.

In the motion, Obama's lawyers argue that the 26 states lack legal standing to challenge what amounts to an exercise of prosecutorial discretion by a federal department. They also contend that the stay is justified because they believe the government will win on appeal.

(c)2015 Tribune Co.