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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court Monday to reverse a hold a judge placed on President Barack Obama's immigration executive action.

In the 69-page brief, filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, government lawyers challenged a preliminary injunction issued in February by a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. That decision placed on hold an executive action that could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally.

Justice Department lawyers say in the new court filing that the federal government has unique authority to enforce the nation's immigration laws and to use its limited resources to exercise discretion during the deportation process, including by deferring removal of certain groups of immigrants, such as those who do not pose a public safety threat.

The executive action was challenged by a coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, who argued that the move was unconstitutional. The states have said they will suffer irreversible economic harm if the injunction is lifted. But the Justice Department says the states have failed to show exactly how they would be negatively affected by the executive action.

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— The Associated Press