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A panel of three federal appeals court judges will hear arguments on Friday related to the fate of President Obama's historic deportation relief program.

What's at stake: the court could decide within weeks as to whether Obama's immigration plan — which would shield an estimated five million people from deportation — will be allowed to go forward as a lawsuit against it continues.

Marshall Fitz, the vice president of immigration policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said the opponents of Obama's immigration actions could be "playing a foot-dragging game" in the hopes that endless litigation will render the programs useless.

"They're going to try to run out the clock on this," he told Fusion. "And there is a clock since this administration has a timer on it right now."

A coalition of 26 states — with Texas in the vanguard — sued the Obama administration over the actions, claiming large-scale deportation reprieve would drain state budgets.

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U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen thought their claims had merit and placed a preliminary injunction on the president's programs in February, stopping them from going forward.

Since then, things have only gotten messier. First of all, the federal government placed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans over the decision to halt the programs. At the same time, the Department of Justice filed a separate emergency appeal with the same court, hoping to get the injunction lifted in a timely manner.

The Fifth Circuit will hear arguments in the emergency appeal on Friday at 11 a.m. ET, but the court could take weeks to issue a ruling.

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The three judges — two of whom Fitz called "extremely conservative" — will have to determine who will be harmed, the federal government or the states, if the injunction against the program continues.

Any of these legal actions could end up before the Supreme Court. The losing side will likely appeal to the high court, but the justices are not obliged to take up the case.

Meanwhile, the bulk of Obama's deportation relief measures remain on ice. A coalition of immigrant-rights leaders rallied in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday to denounce the delay, and another rally is slated for New Orleans in conjunction with the hearing on Friday.

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“This injunction is only hurting immigrant families,” Birmingham Mayor William A. Bell said in a statement. “We need to lift the ban."

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.