SAN DIEGO — Monday is the deadline set by the Trump administration for Congress to approve fixes to a program protecting young immigrants, but a US Supreme Court ruling last week means the shield will stay in effect for at least a few months and perhaps until well after midterm elections.
The administration went directly to the nation’s highest court after US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco decided in January that beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could apply for renewals.
The justices left Alsup’s decision in place until lower federal courts can hear challenges to the executive order in which Trump said he would end DACA unless Congress acts, calling the so-called Dreamers program an abuse of executive power.
Introduced in June 2012, DACA has given hundreds of thousands of people who came to the country illegally as children two-year renewable permits to live and work.
To qualify, they needed to have arrived before their 16th birthday, been under 31 in June 2012, completed high school or served in the military, and have clean criminal records.
Nearly 690,000 people were enrolled when the Trump administration said in September that it was ending the program in six months, eight out of 10 from Mexico. Those whose permits expired by March 5 had a month to apply for renewal.
Alsup ruled Jan. 9 that the administration failed to justify ending the program and that the plaintiffs — California, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota as well as the University of California — had a good chance of winning at trial.
A nationwide injunction forced the administration to resume accepting renewal requests within a week but it did not apply to first-time applicants.
US District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in New York issued a similar ruling in February.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put its review of Alsup’s decision on fast track, but legal experts don’t expect a decision until June at the earliest. From there, it is expected to go to the Supreme Court.
In January, the president proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants as part of an immigration package that included $25 billion for a wall and other border enforcement measures and sharp cuts to legal immigration. The Senate rejected it.
Immigrant advocates and their allies in Congress want a narrower bill that would protect DACA recipients, possibly combined with limited border enforcement measures, but the administration has balked. Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the impasse, while Democrats say he created it by ending DACA.
Congress must pass a spending bill by March 23 to keep the government running, giving Democrats a chance to condition support on a DACA bill. Democrats forced a partial shutdown in January with that goal in mind but relented after three days.
Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University law professor, said the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene ‘‘throws the DACA program back into Congress’ lap.’’
The court battle removes some urgency surrounding Trump’s Monday deadline but DACA recipients whose permits expired are still at risk while they wait for their renewals to be granted.
In February, former Homeland Security secretary John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, scrapped the Obama administration’s policy of limiting deportations to people who pose a public safety threat, convicted criminals, and those who have crossed the border recently, effectively making anyone in the country illegally vulnerable.
Deportation arrests have surged more than 40 percent under Trump.