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Trump administration to ask Supreme Court to intervene on DACA

President Donald Trump speaks alongside President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan at the White House in Washington, Jan. 16, 2018. (Doug Mills/The New York Times Copyright 2018 / New York Times)

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Tuesday said it would take the "rare step" of asking the Supreme Court to clear the way for the Trump administration to dismantle a federal program that provides work permits to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since childhood.

The Department of Justice said it filed a notice of appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit seeking to overturn a California judge's ruling that the federal government could not dismantle the Obama-era program while a legal challenge to the decision to end the program is pending.

The Trump administration said later this week it will petition the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, hoping to bypass the 9th circuit altogether in its bid to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "it defies both law and common sense" that a "single district court in San Francisco" had halted the administration's plans.

"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," Sessions said.

The fate of DACA recipients, also known as "dreamers," is at the heart of a legislative dispute on Capitol Hill that could result in a government shutdown later this week.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued a temporary injunction last week halting the Trump administration's dismantling of the program while a legal challenge to that decision is pending. He ordered the government to resume renewing DACA and work authorizations for the 690,000 immigrants who held that status when the Trump administration ended the program on Sept. 5.

However, the judge said federal officials could deny those individuals the right to return to the United States if they travel abroad. Alsup also said the government did not have to accept new applicants.

California and other states had sued the Trump administration over its decision to end the program starting in March.

President Donald Trump had criticized former President Barack Obama for creating DACA in 2012, saying he overstepped his authority and that it should have been Congress' responsibility to pass a law. Trump vowed during the campaign to end the program. In September, Sessions announced plans to phase it out.

Alsup's ruling said 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.

Dreamers are widely viewed as a sympathetic group because they were brought to the country as children and did not knowingly break the law. Trump has urged Congress to pass a bill that would put the immigrants on permanent legal footing in the United States, though the White House has demanded significant concessions in return, including border wall funding and less family-based immigration.

Congress and the White House are locked in intense negotiations on Capitol Hill over such legislation.

Government lawyers have argued that Trump had the authority to rescind his precedessor's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September and that the courts did not have the power to review it under federal law.

Author information: Maria Sacchetti is the Post immigration reporter. She previously reported for The Boston Globe.