A federal judge Tuesday night temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end the program that shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
The ruling marks a potentially major shift in the heated political battle over the fate of the so-called Dreamers, which has created a months-long deadlock in Congress.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco granted a request by California and other states to block the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at least until lawsuits can play out in court.
Under DACA, which was created by President Barack Obama, about 800,000 young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children have been allowed to live and work legally in the U.S.
In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Trump administration would be ending the program as of March 5. The administration based its decision on Sessions’ opinion that Obama had gone beyond his legal authority in setting up the program.
That legal opinion was incorrect, the judge said, calling it “a flawed legal premise.” He cited decades of previous actions by immigration authorities to provide temporary relief to groups of people who had violated immigration law.
“DACA was and remains a lawful exercise of authority” by immigration officials, wrote Alsup, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
Because the decision to abandon the program was based on Sessions’ incorrect reading of the law, it “must be set aside,” he wrote.
“In terminating DACA,” the administration “failed to address the 689,800 young people who had come to rely on DACA to live and to work in this country. These individuals had submitted substantial personal identifying information to the government, paid hefty fees, and planned their lives according to the dictates of DACA,” the judge wrote.
The DACA recipients would suffer irreparable harm if the program is allowed to end, he added, saying the move “would tear authorized workers from our nation’s economy and would prejudice their being able to support themselves and their families, not to mention paying taxes to support our nation.”
The judge ordered the administration to start processing applications for renewal of DACA permits and to continue existing ones, maintaining the status quo for all people enrolled in the program at the time of Sessions’ announcement.
The ruling comes as Congress is struggling over how to deal with the fate of the Dreamers. Already 122 DACA recipients a day are losing their protections as their DACA permits expire. That leaves them exposed to deportation and unable to work legally. That number would swell to roughly 1,000 a day in March.
Trump convened 20 lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday to discuss immigration reforms but the freewheeling hour-long session did not result in an immediate deal.
Instead, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed to meet in days ahead to develop a timeline for producing legislation. But hopes for action this month have dimmed because of the political divisions over the issue.
Trump, himself, has appeared torn over the program. He has repeatedly said that he does not think that the Dreamers should be deported. At the same time, he has faced opposition from his conservative supporters to any steps that appear to involve “amnesty.”
The administration’s lack of clear direction has left Republican members of Congress stymied.
(Article written by Joel Rubin and Lisa Mascaro)