The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an attempt by the Donald Trump administration to have it intervene in the legal fight over a programme that protects hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The Supreme Court justices said on Monday they would not hear the government’s challenge to a federal court injunction issued last month, blocking Trump’s effort to end the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.
Passed by the Obama administration in 2012, the DACA programme shields from deportation about 800,000 undocumented immigrants – known as Dreamers – who were brought to the US as children.
Trump promised to end the programme during his 2016 election campaign and the protections were set to begin to be phased out in early March.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes after a San Francisco court issued a countrywide injunction on January 9, ordering the programme to remain in place until all litigation is finalised.
Instead of challenging that decision in a federal court of appeal, however, the Trump administration appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said DACA “is clearly unlawful” and accused the district court judge of “unilaterally” re-imposing “a programme that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected.
“We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail,” Shah said in a statement after the US’ highest court delivered its decision.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said it expects the lower court to “proceed expeditiously to decide this case”, The Associated Press news agency reported.
The issue is still being considered by a court of appeal in San Francisco.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, said the decision “is a setback for the Trump administration but it’s not a big surprise.
“Usually you see this work through the lower courts and now that is exactly what the Supreme Court has said to the US government, is that you’re going to have to go through the traditional appeals process.”
In a statement, US Department of Justice spokesperson Devin O’Malley said it would “defend [the Department of Homeland Security’s] lawful authority to wind down DACA in an orderly manner”.
Earlier this month, a second US judge in the state of New York issued another injunction to keep DACA in place.
In a statement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the Supreme Court’s ruling ensures “the preliminary injunctions we secured to block President Trump’s DACA rescission will remain in place for now.
“This is a win for the 42,000 New York Dreamers and over 700,000 Dreamers across the country, and for the millions of families, businesses, hospitals, and universities that depend on Dreamers every single day,” he wrote.
BREAKING: #SCOTUS denies @realDonaldTrump's #DACA appeal which means lower court decisions in CA & NY are still in place. Most importantly, immigrant youth w/#DACA can renew . Today is a good day! #ProtectDreamers
— Marielena Hincapié (@MarielenaNILC) February 26, 2018
Karen Tumlin, legal director for the National Immigration Law Center, said the decision means the US government must continue to process DACA renewals. Permits issued under the programme must be renewed every two years.
“The court orders blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA remain in effect,” Tumlin wrote on Twitter.
“Today is a good day!” added Marielena Hincapie, the organisation’s executive director.
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, called on DACA recipients to consider applying for renewal in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“While this is an important development, it is not a long-term solution for all DACA recipients or Dreamers. We need to keep fighting,” the group said on Twitter.