A U.S. federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to keep in place deportation protection for 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers."
In a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump's efforts to end the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, District Judge John Bates also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to accept new applicants to the program.
The 2012 policy enacted under former President Barack Obama allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors, were enrolled in or completed high school and did not have a serious criminal record to live and work in the country for two-year renewable periods without the fear of deportation.
DHS rescinded the program in 2017, arguing the prior administration lacked the legal authority to create it.
Trump gave lawmakers a March deadline for coming up with a permanent fix for DACA recipients, but the Republican-led Congress has not acted. Several federal courts have also ruled existing DACA protections must remain in place while the overall legal challenges continue.
Judge Bates wrote in the Tuesday decision that the DHS decision to rescind DACA was "arbitrary and capricious because the department failed to adequately explain its conclusion that the program is unlawful."
He put his ruling on hold for 90 days to give the department a chance to "better explain its rescission decision."
There was no immediate response from the Trump administration.