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Protesters' Chants Filter Into Court's Immigration Action Hearing

Image: Demonstrators for immigration reform outside US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Building
Demonstrators, led by the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice and the Congress of Day Laborers, participate in a rally outside the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on April 17. A three-judge panel began hearing arguments whether to lift a temporary hold imposed by a federal judge in Texas on President Barack Obama's executive action seeking to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. Gerald Herbert / AP
/ Source: NBC News

A panel of federal appeals court justices peppered lawyers with questions Friday in a closely watched case that is holding up President Barack Obama's move to shield millions of immigrants from deportation.

Throughout the hearing, chants and drumming by supporters of Obama's action who were protesting outside the courtroom filtered into the packed courtroom.

A coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, sued to block Obama's action which also provides work permits to many of the immigrants who would get the deportation deferrals. The hearing was on an appeal of Texas judge's order preventing the federal government from implementing the programs.

The Justice Department argued in the special hearing by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that Texas has no legal standing in the matter. Texas' solicitor general countered that granting legal status to immigrants will be costly for Texas.

Judges Jennifer Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, and Stephen Higginson, an Obama appointee, often interrupted the legal arguments with queries. Judge Jerry Smith, a Ronald Reagan appointee, was the third judge on the panel.

Elrod seemed skeptical of the Justice Department's arguments while Higginson of those brought by Texas.

Outside the courthouse, immigrants and protesters in favor of Obama's policy held banners and waved at passing cars. One banner read "Immigration reform" and another said "Deportation Destroys Families."

Victor Ibarra, a 43-year-old protester from Houston, was with a group of restaurant workers. He said it's time to change immigration policy.

"We are human. We want family to be together. We just want to be OK in this country, cause no trouble and have the opportunity to be in the U.S. all our life."

In a statement after the hearing, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called Obama's action an "unconstitutional amnesty plan."

He blasted the president for "granting federal and state benefits to law-breaking immigrants."

_ The Associated Press