A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's administration's cancellation of a program protecting undocumented young people from being deported.
The ruling came in response to lawsuits filed in September and October by Santa Clara County together with the Service Employees International Union Local 521; the city of San Jose; the University of California; the states of California, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota; and six individuals.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, announced by the administration on Sept. 5, was "based on mistake of law."
That mistake, Alsup said in a 49-page decision, was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session's conclusion that the program established by President Barack Obama in 2012 was illegal.
In fact, the judge wrote, previous use of deferred action by federal immigration agencies "has been blessed by both the Supreme Court and Congress as a means to exercise enforcement discretion."
Alsup ruled in five lawsuits challenging the DACA cancellation and issued a nationwide preliminary injunction halting the winding down of the program for the time being.
The preliminary injunction will be in effect until Alsup holds a full trial on the case, unless the Justice Department obtains a stay or wins an appeal before then.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said the Department of Homeland Security "acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner."
"The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation," O'Malley said in a statement.
The DACA program now covers 689,000 people, sometimes known as "Dreamers," who arrived in the United States as children. It enables them to apply for deferment of deportation and work authorization, renewable every two years.
The phased termination announced by the Trump administration allowed recipients to retain their authorization until it reached the two-year expiration date, and allowed those whose documents expired before March 6 to apply for one renewal.
Alsup said that under that plan, 1,000 people per day would lose their deportation protection beginning on March 6.
"This would tear authorized workers from our nation's economy and would prejudice their being able to support themselves and their families, not to mention paying taxes to support our nation," he wrote.
The judge said the public interest would be served by continuing protection of current DACA grantees until a trial. He said the administration is not required to accept new applicants.
Alsup noted that Trump tweeted in September, "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!...."
"Today's ruling will protect thousands of hard-working county residents while the County and SEIU Local 521 continue the fight to preserve DACA," Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said in a press release issued Tuesday. "The Trump Administration's decision to repeal DACA was unconscionable, and has already caused immense harm and fear in our community. We applaud the court's decision to halt this heartless and illegal action."
An estimated 23,000 people are eligible for the DACA program, many of whom work for the county and are represented by the employee labor union.
"Today's ruling recognizes that the government can’t promise DACA recipients a future in this country and then abruptly rip that future away," SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer Riko Mendez said in a press release. "This victory will go a long way to prevent further harm to our workers and the community we serve in our jobs as we continue to fight to keep DACA alive."
In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said "America is and has been home to Dreamers who courageously came forward, applied for DACA and did everything the federal government asked of them."
More than 200,000 DACA grantees live in California, he said.
The University of California praised the ruling, but said in a statement that it "does not negate, nor lessen, the urgent need for permanent protection through a legislative solution."