The Justice Department on Tuesday said it would take the "rare step" of asking the Supreme Court to overturn a judge's ruling and allow the Trump administration to dismantle a program that provides work permits to undocumented immigrants raised in the United States.
The Trump administration said it has appealed the judge's injunction — which said the Obama-era program must continue for now — to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
But the Justice Department will also petition the Supreme Court later this week to intervene in the case, an unusual action that would allow the government to bypass the 9th Circuit altogether in its bid to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program starting in March.
"It defies both law and common sense" that a "single district court in San Francisco" had halted the administration's plans, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "We are now taking the rare step of requesting direct review on the merits of this injunction by the Supreme Court so that this issue may be resolved quickly and fairly for all the parties involved."
Last week, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued a temporary injunction halting plans to end the program while a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's decision is pending.
He ordered the government to resume renewing DACA and work authorizations for the 690,000 immigrants who held that status when Sessions announced the end of the program Sept. 5. Homeland Security officials said Saturday that they would comply with the court order and resume accepting applications to renew work permits for the immigrants, also known as "dreamers."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who filed one of the federal lawsuits that led to the temporary injunction, said Tuesday he was confident that the higher courts will uphold the judge's order.
"The unlawful action by the Trump Administration to terminate DACA impacts the lives and livelihood of hundreds of thousands [of] Dreamers, their colleagues, our universities, our businesses and our economy," Becerra said in a statement.
As Sessions noted, it is rare to ask the Supreme Court to step in before the lower courts have completed their work. The justices could take the case if they decide it is important enough, or rely on their usual pattern of waiting until the appeals court has acted.
Until the Justice Department files its specific request with the Supreme Court, it is hard to predict how quickly the justices might act. The department did not ask the Supreme Court for a stay of Alsup's ruling, which would have prompted quicker action on the part of the court.
The fate of DACA recipients is at the heart of a legislative dispute on Capitol Hill that could result in a government shutdown later this week. President Trump says that President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he created the DACA program in 2012, and that Congress must pass legislation protecting dreamers if they are to be allowed to stay.
Trump has expressed sympathy for the immigrants, who were brought to the United States by their parents as minors and did not knowingly break the law. But he is also pushing for border security and other measures as part of any legislative deal.
Alsup's ruling said that California and other plaintiffs had shown they were likely to succeed on their claims that the Trump administration's revocation of the nearly six-year-old program was "capricious" and not in compliance with federal laws.
He said states, immigrants and public universities faced significant losses if a court found that the administration had acted improperly in terminating the program.
Government lawyers have argued that Trump had the authority to rescind DACA in September, and that the courts did not have the power to review it under federal law.
The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the Trump administration for appealing the decision as "the latest in a disturbing pattern of hostile actions directed at young immigrants across America."
Lorella Praeli, the ACLU's director of immigration policy, said that Trump has failed to broker a deal with Congress that would protect the immigrants.
On Tuesday, more than 300 immigrants who have DACA protections went to Capitol Hill to lobby key Republican senators to pass legislation that would grant them U.S. citizenship. Democratic leaders in Congress want to include protections for the dreamers in any spending deal hammered out before government funding expires Friday.
"Republicans today have a choice: To follow the leadership of Donald Trump or to come out and understand that it's not okay what's happening," said Ambar Pinto, a 24-year-old Alexandria resident whose parents brought her to the United States from Bolivia when she was 12. "They need to make a choice. We can no longer wait. They need to do it now."
Pinto has DACA protection, but said her 17-year-old brother was not old enough to apply before the Trump administration ended the program.
Robert Barnes and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.