In the biggest setback yet for the Trump administration in its attempt to end a program that shields some undocumented young adults from deportation, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the protections must stay in place and that the government must resume accepting new applications.
Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia said that the administration’s decision to terminate the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was based on the “virtually unexplained” grounds that the program was “unlawful.”
The judge stayed his decision for 90 days and gave the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, the opportunity to better explain its reasoning for canceling it. If the department fails to do so, it “must accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications,” Judge Bates said in the decision.
The ruling was the third in recent months against the Trump administration’s rollback of DACA. Federal judges in Brooklyn and in San Francisco each issued injunctions ordering that the program remain in place. But neither of those decisions required the government to accept new applications.
Judge Bates, who was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2001, described the Trump administration’s decision to phase out DACA as “arbitrary and capricious because the department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful.”
The Obama administration established the DACA program on the premise that children brought to the United States as children should be treated as low priorities for deportation.
About 700,000 of the young undocumented immigrants — who are known as Dreamers — have signed up but must renew their DACA status every two years. The program also gives them the opportunity to work legally in the United States. Immigrants must be 15 years old to apply.
The Trump administration officially rescinded DACA in March, but the previous court orders allowed the Dreamers to file their renewal applications as challenges to the Trump administration’s move made it through the legal system.
The Supreme Court in late February declined an unusual White House request that it immediately decide whether the Trump administration can shut down the program.
In a statement released Tuesday night, the Justice Department said that it would “continue to vigorously defend” the legality of its decision to end the DACA program and that it looked “forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”