A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Trump administration to keep in place for now a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the country illegally when they were children.
In September, President Donald Trump ended the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and gave congress six months to find a legislative fix for the roughly 800,000 immigrants.
WATCH: U.S. Immigration law
A U.S. District Court judge in the western state of California ruled in favor of a group of individuals and institutions, including the University of California, who sued the government seeking to block the end of DACA. The judge said the program should remain active until the legal challenges are resolved.
The court said the plaintiffs showed “they are likely to suffer serious irreparable harm” and that the public interest will be served if the program continues.
The injunction keeping DACA alive applies nationally, with the court saying the issue touches every U.S. state and territory.
Tuesday’s order specifies that the terms of the DACA program are to be maintained for anyone who was already covered by the program before Trump’s September action, and that those people are allowed to renew their enrollments.
But the government does not have to process any new applications for people trying to enroll under DACA for the first time, and remains free to deport anyone it determines to be a national security or public safety risk.
The court order came hours after Trump told key lawmakers he would sign whatever DACA legislation they agree on.
In an extraordinary televised meeting at the White House, Trump said protection for the immigrants should come first and that comprehensive immigration reforms could be dealt with later. He said that he still believes a wall needs to be built along at least part of the 3,200-kilometer U.S.-Mexican border, but seemed to back off earlier demands that it be funded immediately.
“When this group comes back with an agreement, I’m signing it,” Trump said.
Trump normally dismisses reporters, photographers and television camera people from his meetings after perfunctory remarks, but on Tuesday he allowed them to watch the immigration discussions with lawmakers for 45 minutes.
Some of the Republican lawmakers pushed back on Trump’s agreement to deal with young immigrants as a first priority. But as the discussion continued, Trump also said border security needed to be dealt with, as he left it up to the lawmakers to work out details.
Kirstjen Nielson, Trump’s new Homeland Security chief, told him, “Border security has to be part of this or we’ll be back here three, four or five years from now” still dealing with the issue of illegal immigration across the border with Mexico.
The United States says Trump’s hardline on immigration policies last year sharply cut the number of migrants entering the country illegally from Mexico.
The contentious immigration issue took center stage as Trump and Congress face a January 19 deadline to reach agreement on U.S. government spending through the end of September, after they already were forced three times to agree on temporary budget plans when they were unable to reach a longer-term deal.
But rather than wait another two months to vote on legislation protecting the immigrants in the country under DACA, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to resolve the issue as part of the budget talks.
Trump, even as he ended the DACA program, has occasionally voiced sympathy for the plight of the young immigrants, many of whom only know the United States as their home. On Tuesday, at one point, he said the lawmakers should craft a “bill of love.”
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed, to cheers from his political supporters, to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, an idea the Mexican government quickly rejected. At the White House meeting, Trump said a wall was, because of natural geographic barriers, not needed for the length of the border.
Last week, Trump called for an initial $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for the wall, a proposal Democrats uniformly oppose, along with some Republican lawmakers.
A compromise — with protection for the young immigrants and some enhanced border security, without construction of the wall — could eventually be reached. But making immigration policy changes has stymied U.S. lawmakers for years.
Ahead of the meeting, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, told reporters Monday, “I think we will” reach an agreement on the young immigrants, mainly because neither Democrats nor Republicans want a partial government shutdown.
She said negotiations will center on what immigration compromises Trump might be willing to make with Democrats because “Republicans will by and large vote for anything the president supports.”
A key Senate Republican, Texas Senator John Cornyn, said, “I do want us to get to a solution.”