SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge Tuesday night temporarily blocked the Trump administration's decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted a request by California and other plaintiffs to prevent President Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while their lawsuits play out in court.
Alsup said lawyers in favor of DACA clearly demonstrated that the young immigrants "were likely to suffer serious, irreparable harm" without court action. The judge also said the lawyers have a strong chance of succeeding at trial.
DACA has protected about 800,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families who overstayed visas. The program includes hundreds of thousands of college-age students.
Earlier Tuesday, the president and congressional leaders from both parties met at the White House to discuss the DACA program and other immigration issues as they sought a bipartisan deal to avoid a government shutdown, which could occur in 10 days.
Mr. Trump suggested that an immigration agreement could be reached by addressing young immigrants and border security with what he called a "bill of love," then by making comprehensive changes that have long eluded Congress.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that the program would be phased out, saying former President Obama had exceeded his authority when he implemented it in 2012.
The move sparked a flurry of lawsuits nationwide.
The Justice Department said in a statement late Tuesday night that Alsup's ruling doesn't change the fact that the program is illegal and and it's within the agency's power to end it.
Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley repeated the department's contention that DACA was an unlawful circumvention of Congress by the Obama administration.
O'Malley said the federal government is acting within its authority to enforce the rule of law and wind down the program, and would continue its court fight.
Alsup considered five separate lawsuits filed in Northern California, including one by California and three other states, and another by the governing board of the University of California school system.
"DACA covers a class of immigrants whose presence, seemingly all agree, pose the least, if any, threat and allows them to sign up for honest labor on the condition of continued good behavior," Alsup wrote in his decision. "This has become an important program for DACA recipients and their families, for the employers who hire them, for our tax treasuries, and for our economy."
That echoed the judge's comments from a court hearing on Dec. 20, when he grilled an attorney for the Department of Justice over the government's justification for ending DACA, saying many people had come to rely on it and faced a "real" and "palpable" hardship from its loss.
Alsup also questioned whether the administration had conducted a thorough review before ending the program.
Brad Rosenberg, a Justice Department attorney, said the administration considered the effects of ending DACA and decided to phase it out over time instead of cutting it immediately.
DACA recipients will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for the remainder of their two-year authorizations. Any recipient whose status was due to expire within six months also got a month to apply for another two-year term.
The Justice Department said in court documents that DACA was facing the possibility of an abrupt end by court order, but Alsup was critical of that argument.
People took out loans, enrolled in school and even made decisions about whether to get married and start families on the basis of DACA and now face "horrific" consequences from the loss of the program, said Jeffrey Davidson, an attorney for the University of California governing board.
"The government considered none of this at all when they decided to rescind DACA," he said at the hearing.
The University of California said in a statement after the decision that "UC's DACA students represent the very best of our country and are a key part of California and our nation's future."
The statement says the UC system will persist in legal challenges to the end of the program and will seek permanent protection for the young immigrants.
DACA recipients are commonly referred to as "dreamers," based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections for young immigrants.
"Dreamers lives were thrown into chaos when the Trump Administration tried to terminate the DACA program without obeying the law," California Attorney General Becerra said in a statement after Tuesday's decision. "Tonight's ruling is a huge step in the right direction."
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