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Trump administration must accept new DACA applications, judge orders

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Protesters in Washington, D.C., gathered in November 2019 as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Trump administration's efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters

EL PASO — A federal judge ruled Friday that the Trump administration must start accepting new applications for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields some undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The decision comes four weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the 2012 initiative to remain in place. The policy, known as DACA, has protected more than 130,000 Texans from deportation since its inception, the second-highest total of any state after California. As of December 2019, there were about 107,000 Texans with DACA permits, according to federal statistics.

The DACA program applies to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 and who were 30 or younger as of June 2012. The program gave them a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation.

After the program was halted in 2017, DACA recipients were allowed to apply for renewal of their two-year permits. But new applications had been put on hold.

Friday's developments come from a separate case heard in Maryland, where federal district Judge Paul Grimm made his decision in part based on the ruling by the Supreme Court, which said the Trump administration didn’t follow proper procedure when it stopped the program.

“The policy is restored to its pre-September 5, 2017 status,” he wrote in the four-page order. “Defendants [including the Department of Homeland Security] and their agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and all persons in active concert or participation with any of them, are ENJOINED from implementing or enforcing the DACA rescission and from taking any other action to rescind DACA.”

Immigrant rights groups immediately cheered the decision and said the ruling should spell relief for potential applicants and please the majority of Americans.

“Today’s decision reaffirms what we already knew and what the Supreme Court already said. The Trump administration’s heartless attempt to terminate the DACA program was illegal and they must immediately begin accepting new DACA applications,” Gustavo Torres, CASA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Trump’s xenophobic policy agenda is being stripped apart, demonstrating what 74% of Americans already agree on: DACA should be here to stay.”

After the Supreme Court ruling, President Donald Trump said he would try again to end the program in a way the high court would deem appropriate. “The Supreme Court asked us to resubmit on DACA, nothing was lost or won,” he said at the time.

He has since made statements saying he would soon announce action on DACA that would protect young undocumented immigrants but hasn’t been clear on the details and has said it would either be part of an executive action or part of a larger bill.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement after the Supreme Court's ruling that his office would keep working to have DACA declared unconstitutional in a separate case filed in Texas’ federal courts.