Justice department asks supreme court to intervene in fight against Daca

Department asks high court for ‘direct review’ of ruling that temporarily blocks Trump administration from phasing out Daca

Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday. He tweeted: ‘We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now!’
Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday. He tweeted: ‘We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now!’ Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

The Department of Justice said on Tuesday it is appealing against a federal judge’s ruling that temporarily blocked the Trump administration from phasing out the Obama-era program granting protections to young, undocumented immigrants – and asking the supreme court to intervene.

The department said it had filed an appeal in the ninth circuit court and intends to “take the rare step” later this week of seeking a fast track to the supreme court.

The announcement came as the fate of nearly 700,000 Dreamers, who were brought to the US as children, has raised the specter of a government shutdown with lawmakers in Washington at an impasse over immigration.

William Alsup, a US district judge in California, ordered the Trump administration last week to continue processing renewals for the 2012 program established by Barack Obama, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), which granted temporary legal status to Dreamers.

In announcing the administration’s decision to appeal against the ruling on Tuesday, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said: “It defies both law and common sense for Daca … to somehow be mandated nationwide by a single district court in San Francisco.

“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.”

Trump announced in September he was rescinding Daca and gave Congress until 5 March to pass a replacement.

The resulting debate on Capitol Hill over how to resolve the issue through legislation has rattled negotiations over funding for the government, which is due to expire on Friday. Absent a deal in the next four days, Congress looked increasingly poised for its first government shutdown since 2013.

The president pre-emptively cast blame on Democrats, who have demanded that any bill to fund the government be accompanied by protections for Dreamers.

“The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “The biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever. We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now! No more dangerous Lottery.”

During a shutdown, vital government services such as law enforcement and air traffic control would continue, as would benefit programs like social security, Medicare and Medicaid. But national parks would close, and many federal bureaucrats would be sent home.

When Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered.

Most federal services are subsequently frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. As a result, most non-defense federal employees are placed on unpaid furlough and told not to report to work. Active duty military personnel are not furloughed.

At the height of the 2013 government shutdown, nearly 40% of the government workforce were furloughed. The employees were retroactively paid by Congress, consistent with previous shutdowns.

Airports remains open but service can be disrupted due to “non-essential” employee furloughs. National parks, monuments and museums, as well as passport offices, are typically closed. The IRS is also partially closed, prompting a slowdown of the processing of tax returns and the ability of banks to grant mortgage and other loans that rely on IRS verification.

The US Postal Service is funded separately and therefore mail continues to be delivered. Benefits such as social security, Medicare and food stamps also continue to be distributed.

Analysts have projected that the cost of furloughing federal employees could total $6.5bn a week and “possibly snuff out any economic momentum”.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said a shutdown would pose a serious threat to global stock markets, which have hit a series of record highs since Trump’s inauguration, something the president has tried to associate himself with personally.

“Uncertainty is bad for the global economy,” said Stiglitz. “And among the uncertainties are these government shutdowns, which would be probably very bad for the markets.”

Democrats believe tying fixing Daca to a must-pass spending bill will coerce more lawmakers to vote in favor of a compromise, given the deep partisan divide over immigration.

Republicans have deemed them to be separate issues, but have privately expressed concern that a shutdown would call into question their ability to govern as the party that controls Washington.

There has never been a shutdown of the federal government with just one party in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

S&P Global said the impact of a shutdown would be felt throughout the US economy: “A disruption in government spending means no government paychecks to spend; lost business and revenue to private contractors; lost sales at retail shops, particularly those that circle now-closed national parks; and less tax revenue for Uncle Sam. That means less economic activity and fewer jobs.”

Almost 1 million people will not get regular paychecks if a shutdown happens, S&P said. “With each day the shutdown drags on, federal workers may start to pull back on household spending at restaurants, childcare, or retail stores because of worries that they won’t get paid anytime soon,” it said.

Efforts to hash out an agreement were severely undermined last week when it was reported that Trump questioned the need to admit immigrants from “shithole countries”.

The president’s remarks reportedly came during a private meeting with lawmakers while discussing immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador, who have been provided temporary protected status by the US government. The Trump administration has moved to strip them of that status, potentially forcing out of the country as many as 200,000 Salvadorans and 60,000 Haitians.

The White House denied on Tuesday that Trump’s comments might have paved the way for a shutdown.

“No, I think he’s worried that Democrats’ unwillingness to put country ahead of their party is what’s stalling things,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said.

Sanders said the White House’s position was that immigration and spending talks should be kept separate.

The growing discord has prompted Republican leaders to discuss a short-term stopgap measure to avert a shutdown by midnight on Friday. Members of Congress passed a similar resolution in December, kicking the deadline to 19 January.

Democrats earned criticism from immigration activists for failing to hold the line in December. They face mounting pressure not to stall on protections for Dreamers. Internal divisions remain within the party over whether a shutdown is necessary without a solution on Daca.

Trump’s latest controversial remarks on immigrants nonetheless appeared to mark a turning point.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Democrats grilled Kristjen Nielsen, Trump’s homeland security secretary, on her boss’s attitude toward immigrants.

Nielsen said she did not recall Trump’s specific remark about African countries, prompting a swift rebuke from Cory Booker, one of just three black senators.

“Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” he said.

She was also asked about Trump’s alleged remarks backing immigration from countries like Norway, which as Senator Patrick Leahy pointed out is “predominantly white”.

“I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that is the case,” Nielsen replied.