Updated at 11 p.m. ET
A federal appeals court in California has blocked the Trump administration from immediately terminating an Obama-era program protecting from deportation young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, ruled unanimously in favor of a lower court's preliminary injunction against the administration's attempt to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program allows about 700,000 young immigrants to stay and work in the United States. In January, U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted a request to keep DACA operational while its future was being litigated.
The ruling is the latest legal setback for the Trump administration over DACA.
Last year President Trump announced his intention to end DACA to avoid a lawsuit by Texas and other states. But the president's action drew immediate legal challenges.
In February, a federal judge in New York also blocked the administration from ending DACA.
In April, a third federal judge, in Washington, D.C., also ruled against the administration.
In this latest ruling, the first by an appellate panel, the judges rejected the government's arguments that the court has no jurisdiction in the matter and said that DACA supporters are likely to succeed in their claim that the administration was acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
"Today the Ninth Circuit recognized that the courageous men and women who brought this case—like DACA holders across the country—embody the American Dream," said attorney Ethan Dettmer of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a firm representing some of the DACA plaintiffs, in a statement. "In upholding Judge Alsup's preliminary injunction, the Court recognized that Dreamers are 'no different from any other productive—indeed inspiring—young American,' and that DACA was put in place to prevent 'the cruelty and wastefulness of deporting productive young people to countries with which they have no ties.' "
A spokesman for the Department of Justice insisted the administration had the authority to phase out DACA.
"While we are disappointed in with today's ruling, we are pleased that the court has finally acted and that the Supreme Court now can consider our petition for review," said spokesman Steven J. Stafford. "The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend its position on this matter, and looks forward to vindicating that position before the Supreme Court."
Earlier this week and before the 9th Circuit had ruled, the Department of Justice asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene by reviewing the three rulings blocking the administration's plan to terminate DACA.
The high court has not responded to that request. But virtually all legal observers anticipate that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the program's fate.