SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration said Monday that it fully restored the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation, complying with a federal judge's order.
The Department of Homeland Security posted on its website that it is accepting new applications, petitions for two-year renewals and requests for permission to temporarily leave the U.S.
The department said it "may seek relief from the order," signaling that its concession to the court order may be short-lived if its legal efforts succeed.
The announcement is still a major victory for young people who have been unable to apply since Trump ended DACA in September 2017. His administration has long argued that DACA is unconstitutional.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Trump violated federal law in how he ended the program, Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said the administration would study its options and, until then, wouldn't accept new applications and would grant renewals for one year instead two. DACA shields about 650,000 people from deportation and makes them eligible for work permits.
Monday's announcement came hours before a deadline set by District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in the Eastern District of New York for the administration to post public notice that it would accept applications under terms before Trump ended DACA in 2017. The judge ruled Friday that Wolf was unlawfully serving in his position.
DACA was started in 2012 during the Obama administration. It allows certain immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to work and be exempt from deportation, though it does not confer legal status on recipients.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reinstate DACA when he takes office in January but permanent legal status and a path to citizenship would require congressional approval.
DACA recipients and their supporters greeted the news with a mix of elation and awareness that their futures are precarious, even with Biden's support.
Maria Garcia, 18, an aerospace engineering student at Arizona State University, said she will apply for the program as soon as she can. She and her parents and two brothers arrived in Phoenix in 2006 Mexico. Her older brother, now 23, is already a DACA recipient and has a job. Her younger brother, now 16, is in high school and plans to eventually seek DACA protection as well.
Garcia said the court's decision last week "was wonderful news."
"There are a lot of other students who are undocumented who don't qualify for DACA. They have to find a permanent solution," she said.
Michelle Celleri, an attorney at advocacy group Alliance San Diego, was preparing an application for a client who was putting the final touches on her petition when Trump canceled DACA in 2017.
"Her feeling is, 'I'll do anything. I'm sick of being in the dark and I want to move forward,'" Celleri said.
Celleiri said she is advising clients to submit applications before Dec. 22, when there is a key hearing in Texas in a lawsuit by several states challenging DACA's legality.
"There's just way too much happening right now," she said. "I don't want people caught in the crossfire."