A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday chose to keep in place an injunction blocking Trump's decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Negotiations to settle government policy concerning DACA recipients have failed to produce new legislation in Congress since Trump took office.
Back in September, President Donald Trump's administration announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early 2019. Today the 9th Circuit issued its ruling in the challenge to the termination of the program, known as DACA, which allows some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for protection from deportation.
The Trump administration has said it moved to end the program past year because Texas and other states threatened to sue, raising the prospect of a chaotic end to DACA.
"To be clear: we do not hold that DACA could not be rescinded as an exercise of Executive Branch discretion", Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said in the opinion.
Wardlaw was appointed by Democratic former President Bill Clinton.
The 9th circuit has 16 judges who were appointed by Democratic presidents and seven who were named by Republican presidents.
The ruling represented another legal defeat for Trump over DACA, although he has won court victories on other parts of his hardline immigration policies.
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The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit makes it more likely that the Supreme Court will settle the question.
"The good news is, by rejecting DACA in the 9th Circuit - finally, we've been waiting for that - we get it to the Supreme Court", Trump said at the White House on Friday. It also is set to rule on the administration's appeal of a judge's order blocking Trump's move to put restrictions on transgender people serving in the US military.
San Francisco-based US District Judge William Alsup decided in January the government must continue processing renewals of existing DACA applications while litigation over the legality of Trump's action is resolved.
"The DACA will now hopefully go to the Supreme Court where it will be given a fair decision", Trump told reporters.
Trump had proposed ending the protections past year in an effort to spur congressional action to fix the problem. Trump's action sparked an outcry from immigration advocates, business groups, colleges and some religious leaders.
California, the most populous US state, is a liberal bastion that is unfriendly political territory for Trump.
In its filing on Monday, the federal government complained that the 9th Circuit had heard oral argument in the dispute in mid-May but had not yet issued its ruling. The Trump administration is expected to appeal this decision until the issue reaches the highest court.
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