Protestors demonstrate against the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena
By Mica Rosenberg and Lucy Nicholson
NEW YORK/PASADENA, California (Reuters) - A panel of three appeals court judges in California on Tuesday asked the federal government to defend its decision to end a program protecting from deportation some immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, who are often referred to as "Dreamers."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must rule on whether to uphold a lower court's nationwide injunction ordering the government to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in place while litigation challenging its termination proceeds.
The administration of President Donald Trump announced in September it would scrap the 2012 program launched by former President Barack Obama, and said it was up to Congress to find a legislative solution.
Several plaintiffs, including the University of California, which enrolls many DACA recipients, sued over the administration's decision, and in January, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued the injunction. A judge in Brooklyn, New York, made a similar finding, and a judge in Washington, D.C., gave the government extra time to explain its reasoning.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program was unlawful when he announced the end of DACA, a position the appeals court judges asked attorneys for the government to explain on Tuesday.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim Mooppan responded that it was within the government's discretion to decide the fate of the program.
"It is perfectly lawful to have a zero tolerance enforcement policy, but it is potentially unlawful to not enforce the law on a large swath of people," Mooppan said.
Lawyers for plaintiffs challenging DACA's termination argued that while Obama was clearly within his rights to establish the program, its end robbed hundreds of thousands of young immigrants of protections they had come to rely on.
Outside the Pasadena courthouse on Tuesday, some 30 DACA supporters gathered in a rose garden, shouting slogans in Spanish and English.
Ali Torabi, 27, a DACA recipient who came from Iran with his mother and younger brother 23 years ago, said he is hoping for a favorable decision from the courts since Congress seems unable to act.
"Both parties are playing a lot of politics with our lives," Torabi said. "They've let us down so many times."
The panel of judges, all appointed by Democratic presidents, could issue its decision at any time. The Supreme Court, which in February declined a request to weigh in before the appellate court, said at the time it assumed the appeals court would rule swiftly.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Lucy Nicholson in Pasadena; Editing by Sue Horton)