A federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration's decision to end deportation protections for some young immigrants, saying the White House was "arbitrary and capricious" in moving to end the Obama-era DACA program.
In a blow to President Trump, who has long railed against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia said the Department of Homeland Security had failed to provide an adequate rationale for why the program is unlawful.
He said that the decision to rescind DACA must therefore be set aside, but he gave Homeland Security 90 days to "better explain its view" that DACA is illegal.
If it fails to produce a more convincing argument in the three-month timeframe, DHS "must accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications," the judge said.
"Each day that the agency delays is a day that aliens who might otherwise be eligible for initial grants of DACA benefits are exposed to removal because of an unlawful agency action," Bates wrote in his decision.
DACA granted the right to work and stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation to about 700,000 young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Bates is the third judge to rule against the administration's plans to end DACA after federal judges in California and New York handed down similar decisions.
The government is expected to appeal the decision, but in January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a key case dealing with DACA, leaving the administration few options.
Upon hearing of the latest ruling, high school senior Manuel Lopez said he felt overwhelmed.
“When I first heard the news, I burst into tears,” said Lopez, 19. “I was so happy, full of joy. I felt, like, the doors opening toward my future."
Lopez, who arrived with his family from Mexico at age six, attends a charter school near downtown Los Angeles and plans to attend Cal State L.A. in the fall. He said he tried to apply for DACA in the past, but obtained poor legal advice and was rejected due to incomplete applications. He was hoping to try again but the program was rescinded.
Now he’s been in touch with a legal nonprofit organization and is eager to apply again if the ruling sticks.
“Right away, I was like, okay, I need all my information ready, just in case, so when they say ‘go,’ I will go,” Lopez said.
Luis Perez, legal director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the ruling would especially help younger DACA hopefuls. Teens who qualify may apply for the program once they turn 15, but they haven't been able to since the program was rescinded.
"We have been turning them away,” Perez said. “We have a list of people that we are going to be calling back in 90 days, depending on what happens.”
Perez cautions that there are no guarantees: The administration could prove its point in court and, even if DACA is reinstated, the protection is only temporary.
“This order just highlights that this is not permanent, that things with DACA are changing so much from one day to the next,” Perez said. “So the real need is something permanent for these young folks.”
Congress has debated options for giving DACA-eligible young immigrants a path to permanent legal status and U.S. citizenship, but lawmakers have been unable to reach a consensus.
Meanwhile, Department of Homeland Security officials said they are reviewing the court order.
This story has been updated.
KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas contributed to this story.