A federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program late Tuesday night.
Widely known as DACA, the program protects young immigrants from deportation. In September, the Justice Department announced that the program would be phased out.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who asked the court to keep DACA going, was pleased by the decision.
"Whether you're the underdog or the little guy," he said, "in this country ... do things the right way, you can win."
President Obama implemented the program in 2012; it has protected about 800,000 people who were brought to the United States as children by their families, some of whom overstayed their visas. Under the program, young adults, often referred to as "Dreamers," have been permitted to live and work legally in the U.S.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco granted a request by California and other states to keep DACA going, at least until lawsuits can play out in court.
Viridiana Chabolla Mendoza, 26, a University of California, Irvine law student and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits on which the judge ruled, said the decision allows her to plan for her future again. Her DACA permit was due to expire in October of this year with no further renewal.
“This morning I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief, and feel like I can start planning out – or continue planning on – my life, for a while,” said Chabolla.
Chabolla, who graduates in 2020, said she would now begin gathering the documents she needs to renew her DACA status for another two years.
“Being able to renew DACA gives me some peace of mind, that I can go to a pro-bono clinic in San Diego and not fear that I will be stopped by immigration and deported,” said Chabolla, who arrived in the U.S. at age two from Mexico.
But like other advocates, she said she still hopes that Congress will agree on a long-term solution for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Responding to the news on Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted, "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 has said that any deal to extend DACA must include plans for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Becerra called plans to build a wall "antiquated and non-sensical." He said Trump "was one of our better witnesses" in the case. Adding:
"If I were in the negotiating table, I'd say my hand has been strengthened. This is a chance for those of us who want to get a permanent solution."
In his ruling, Alsup wrote that lawyers for the immigrants' "have clearly demonstrated that they are likely to suffer serious, irreparable harm," unless the court steps in with an injunction.
"DACA covers a class of immigrants whose presence, seemingly all agree, pose the least, if any, threat and allows them to sign up for honest labor on the condition of continued good behavior," Alsup wrote. "This has become an important program for DACA recipients and their families, for the employers who hire them, for our tax treasuries, and for our economy."
Becerra said in a statement after Tuesday's decision:
"Dreamers' lives were thrown into chaos when the Trump administration tried to terminate the DACA program without obeying the law."
However, the Trump administration could appeal Alsup's ruling.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley issued a statement last night:
"Tonight's order doesn't change the Department of Justice's position on the facts: DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens. As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress, and was susceptible to the same legal challenges that effectively ended DAPA.
"The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner. Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation."
Some DACA opponents hope that the program will meet the same fate as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, known as DAPA, an Obama-era program that was never implemented. The program would have similarly granted temporary protection to unauthorized immigrants who were the parents of U.S. citizens or legal residnets.
Lower courts blocked the program. The U.S. Supreme Court took it up, but in June 2016 the justices tied 4-4, leaving the lower court decisions in effect.
John Eastman, a Chapman University law professor and a critic of DACA, said this history with DAPA bodes poorly for DACA.
“DACA…stands on exactly the same legal authority, and therefore falls on exactly the same legal grounds,” Chapman said. “So the president is not only correct in canceling the DACA program, but when this case finally gets resolved in the courts, he will be obligated to cancel the program.”
Earlier at the White House, President Trump met with lawmakers to discuss the DACA program and other immigration issues.
NPR's Brian Naylor reported:
"Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday that he wants a bill to allow young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally to remain, saying that such a measure should be "a bipartisan bill of love" and that "we can do it."
"As to what sort of immigration legislation he would approve, Trump said that he was reliant on lawmakers and that even if they produced legislation he wasn't "in love with," he would still support it. He also said he would take the heat for both Republicans and Democrats if they get criticism over a compromise immigration measure, adding that his "whole life has been heat" and that to a certain extent he prefers it that way."
The president also addressed the issue of a border wall with Mexico, saying the U.S. needs one "in certain areas obviously that aren't protected by nature" and where existing fences are in bad shape and need to be fixed or rebuilt.
But Trump also added, "There are large areas where you don't need a wall."
Becerra called for a "lasting solution" that goes beyond the duration of the lawsuit in court.
KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.