A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a nationwide injunction against the Trump administration’s attempt to end a program that allows people who were brought into the United States illegally as children to remain in the country temporarily.
Jeff Sessions, who until Wednesday was President Trump’s attorney general, announced in September that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would end gradually over six months, prompting protests across the country. Trump has criticized the program, known as DACA, as an “amnesty-first approach,” and called on Congress to come up with a replacement.
The ruling Thursday, from the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, was the first from a federal circuit court to weigh in on one of the country’s most contentious issues. It brought DACA closer to review by the US Supreme Court, which ultimately will have to resolve the various legal claims swirling around the program.
That may already be on a faster track, however, since the Trump administration earlier this week petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the issue immediately, without waiting for rulings in the lower courts.
A series of legal challenges are pending in a number of states. Federal appeals courts have taken up the issue in New York, Texas, and Washington, where district courts have ruled against the administration’s rollback for various reasons.
In their opinion Thursday, the circuit judges in San Francisco upheld a nationwide injunction imposed by Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California in January, ordering safeguards from deportation to remain in place for nearly 700,000 young immigrants while the complex legal issues make their way through the courts.
The judges rejected the arguments of government lawyers who contended that DACA had been introduced illegally by former President Obama in an act of executive overreach.
“DACA was a permissible exercise of executive discretion,” the appeals court panel found, adding that the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate the program was arbitrary and capricious under settled law.
Obama introduced DACA in June 2012 in a Rose Garden ceremony as a stopgap measure. He said he had no choice but to act on behalf of the young people who qualified because Congress had failed to do so.
In order to qualify for protections under the program, participants are required to have a clean criminal record and to have finished high school or obtained a GED.
DACA is a unique immigration policy in that it enjoys wide support from both Republicans and Democrats.
“The hope is that this administration puts an end to this legal fight. Nobody in the country is suffering because of the presence of the young people,” said Mark D. Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the nonprofit group Public Counsel, who argued the case. “There’s no imperative. This is just cruelty that serves no national purpose.”