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A federal judge on Tuesday night ordered the Trump administration to revive part of the program that protected people who were illegally brought to the United States as children from being deported, calling the administration's abrupt decision to end the program last year "arbitrary" and "capricious."
The ruling came just hours after a bipartisan meeting between President Donald Trump and members of Congress appeared to have moved negotiations forward, however slightly, on how to address the fate of undocumented immigrants under the program.
The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, rescinded the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in September and said it would stop accepting applications from people covered under the act to renew their two-year DACA permits. The administration said the repeal would take effect in March.
Partly granting a request from the University of California, U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday night in San Francisco ordering DHS to resume accepting renewal applications from people who are already protected under DACA while challenges to the September order work their way through the courts. But DHS doesn't have to accept new applications, he ruled.
Alsup, who was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton, scolded DHS for having presented no analysis of the impact its order would have on the almost 700,000 young people "who had come to rely on DACA to live and to work in this country."
"These individuals had submitted substantial personal identifying information to the government, paid hefty fees and planned their lives according to the dictates of DACA," Alsup wrote. "The administrative record includes no consideration to the disruption a rescission would have on the lives of DACA recipients, let alone their families, employers and employees, schools and communities."
And he called the government's argument that DHS doesn't even have the authority to administer DACA "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."
At the same time, he wrote, the plaintiffs "have not made a comparable showing as to individuals who have never applied for or obtained DACA" — so DHS doesn't have to process new requests for protection.
The White House, in a statement Wednesday morning, ripped the decision as "outrageous, especially in light of the President's successful bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members at the White House on the same day."
"An issue of this magnitude must go through the normal legislative process," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "President Trump is committed to the rule of law, and will work with members of both parties to reach a permanent solution that corrects the unconstitutional actions taken by the last administration."
Trump blamed the "unfair" court system in slamming the ruling.
"It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is when the opposing side in a case (such as DACA) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts," Trump wrote in a Wednesday morning tweet.
In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called Alsup's ruling "a huge step in the right direction."
The Department of Justice said the decision doesn’t change its view that the program was an illegal circumvention of Congress, and it is within the agency’s power to end it.
“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement to The Associated Press.
At Trump's meeting with members of Congress, which was open to the press, the White House and members of both parties said issues that needed to be worked out included DACA, border security, changes to family-based migration, also known as chain migration, and the visa lottery system.
No agreements were immediately reached. During the meeting, Trump reiterated that he was willing to revive DACA, at least in the short term, but only in return for a deal on funding the wall he wants built along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Surprising observers and participants in the room, Trump said he first wanted "a bill of love" to address DACA, then endorsed moving ahead to larger immigration issues.
"We'll do DACA," Trump said at the start of the meeting. "Then we can start comprehensive immigration reform the next afternoon."
The bipartisan meeting came at a particularly tenuous time, with Congress facing the threat of a government shutdown in just 10 days and the lack of agreement on DACA tangling up efforts to keep the government’s lights on.
Late Tuesday, Trump repeated on Twitter that a wall "must be part of any DACA approval."
NBC News reported on Friday that the Department of Homeland Security has requested $18 billion in funding to complete the wall, a key campaign promise of Trump's.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the minority whip, called the $18 billion request "outrageous."
The plan would include 316 miles of new fencing and 407 miles of reinforcing existing fence over the next decade.
Republican senators who have been talking to the White House have been softly redefining the definition of a border wall for the past week, saying Trump wasn't literal when he promised a physical structure spanning the entire length of the southern border.
At the meeting Tuesday, Trump appeared to be talking in similar terms, and he didn't mention that Mexico would pay for it.
"We are doing a study of that right now, but there are large areas where you do not need a wall because you have a mountain, and you have a river, you have a violent river. You don't need it," he said.