The Trump administration tried to convince a U.S. appeals court Tuesday that it was justified in ending an Obama-era immigration policy that shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
From its courthouse right here in Pasadena, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the first federal appeals court to hear arguments Tuesday about President Donald Trump's decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Watch archived video of the hearing below:
DACA has protected some 700,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families that overstayed visas.
A federal judge in San Francisco in January blocked the Trump administration's decision to end DACA, reinstating the program in a decision that applied nationwide.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup rejected the argument that President Barack Obama exceeded his power in implementing DACA and said the Trump administration failed to consider the disruption that ending the program would cause.
"This has become an important program for DACA recipients and their families, the employers who hire them, for our tax treasuries, and for our economy," the judge said.
The Trump administration said it was forced to act because Texas and other states threatened to sue, raising the prospect of a chaotic end to the program.
On Tuesday, Hashim Mooppan, an attorney for Department of Justice, argued before the three-judge panel that the Department of Homeland Security was within its rights to stop administering the program.
"It's a question of an agency saying 'We're not going to have a policy that might well be illegal,' Moopan said. "That is a perfectly rational thing to do."
The Trump administration wants the 9th Circuit to throw out Alsup's ruling along with the five lawsuits he considered, including one by the state of California and another by the University of California's governing body.
Six DACA recipients from California have also brought suit against the Trump administration. Their lawyer, Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel, told the panel that the decision to end DACA was a bait-and-switch.
"The government never said that at the end of two years we can take that welcome mat that we put out for you and use it as the rug that we're going to pull out from under you," Rosenbaum said.
One of his clients, Dulce Garcia, an immigration attorney based in San Diego, said that she was hopeful that the Ninth Circuit would keep the injunction in place. But she said Congress needs to pass permanent protection from deportation and create a path to citizenship.
"So we don't have to be constantly suing the president and the administration to do what is morally and legally right," Garcia, 35, said. "It's been so painful to constantly explain our worth to our society and ask for people to take a bit of pity and support us."
Her fellow plaintiff Miriam Gonzalez, a 24-year-old teacher at a Los Angeles charter school, said she continues to worry what will happen when her DACA protections expire in March 2019.
"If my DACA is not renewed, I wouldn't be able to finish my school year with my students," Gonzalez said. "It's an iffy thing to navigate."
Federal judges in New York and Washington, D.C., also have ruled against the Trump administration on DACA. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments this summer on an appeal of the New York judge's ruling.
The DACA decision appears likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court eventually. Attorneys fighting its rollback said they were optimistic their arguments would prevail.
"The rescission of DACA is based on what appears to be an argument that DACA was illegal when it was enacted, but that's just wrong," Jeff Davidson, an attorney representing UC regents, said on a recent conference call with reporters.
The UC system enrolls more than 1,700 DACA recipients.
The administration has been critical of the 9th Circuit and took the unusual step of trying to sidestep the appeals court and have the California DACA cases heard directly by the Supreme Court.
The high court in February declined to do so.
The 9th Circuit has ruled against Trump's travel bans and is also considering the president's executive order to cut off funding from so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Trump has said he has considered breaking up the court, which is widely considered the most liberal of the U.S. appeals courts.
This story has been updated.