By Maya Rhodan
February 26, 2018

President Donald Trump set a deadline of March 5 for Congress to address the fate of hundreds of thousands of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but the Supreme Court just gave everyone more time.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court decided not hear arguments in a California case that upended the Trump-imposed deadline, meaning the nearly 700,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program can continue to renew their applications while the case works its way through the legal system.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday that the program is “clearly unlawful” and the judge’s decision to reinstate the program is a “usupation of legislative authority.”

“The fact that this occurs at a time when elected representatives in Congress are actively debating this policy only underscores that the district judge has unwisely intervened in the legislative process,” Shah said. “We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail.”

In the near future, the lack of a hard deadline may actually make it harder for Congress to come together on an already-contentious issue. The Senate already rejected a bipartisan compromise that would have given so-called Dreamers legal status while also putting a down payment on Trump’s proposal for a border wall with Mexico.

The Supreme Court decision came as a result of a rare ask from the Trump Administration to immediately review U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s nationwide order before a federal appeals court had a chance to weigh in. (A federal judge in New York made a similar ruling on Feb. 13.)

The Supreme Court denied that request on Monday “without prejudice,” with the justices noting that “it is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously in this case” — essentially declining to intervene in the usual judicial process without tipping their hand on how they may eventually rule on the case should it reach them.

The effect that the court decisions will have on DACA recipients remains to be seen. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the DACA program, the Department of Homeland Security immediately stopped accepting new applications. Under the rules of the administration’s rollback, current enrollees were given until Oct. 5 to reapply as long as their documents expired on or before March 5, 2018. But, the injunctions that are in place now say those who had DACA before the Trump Administration’s decision can apply to renew those protections, though the Administration is free to accept them on a case-by-case basis. New applications for DACA, however, are still not being accepted.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance on accepting application renewals, and Judge Alsup ordered the Administration to issue quarterly reports on the renewal process. Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said Monday that the organization has started to receive notice of DACA renewals that have been approved.

Pro-immigration advocates have hailed the Supreme Court decision on Monday, calling it and all of the legal challenges thus far “important victories” because they will give immigrants some reprieve.

Greisa Martinez, the policy and advocacy director for United We Dream, says that while this is a good thing, there is still a need for a permanent solution. “Today’s SCOTUS decision means that young people who have or previously had DACA will be able to renew. That gives us some relief,” she said on a call with reporters. “But it does not give us permanent protections from the bullies that have been coming after us in our community. It does not mean that those who don’t have DACA yet can apply for it and it does not mean that millions of young people who qualify for the Dream Act, but can’t get DACA, are protected.”

The Supreme Court’s order and the previous judicial rulings keep the Trump administration from ending the program on March 5, but around 100 DACA recipients have been losing their work permits and deportation deferrals every day, notes Cornell Law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr. “The uncertainty is causing problems for both DACA recipients and their employers,” he said. “Today’s ruling throws the DACA program back into Congress’ lap.”

In rolling back the program initially, Trump called on Congressional leaders to institute a permanent solution but he has also complicated those efforts by signaling support for a solution only to outright reject any that did not include hardline principles that are seen as non-starters to Democrats.

In the meantime, the president has moved to place the blame squarely on Democrats, arguing that Republicans want to “make a deal.”

Lawmakers have been mulling short-term fixes to DACA that can be put in place near the rapidly approaching March deadline. According to the Hill, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are discussing a way to tie $7.6 billion in border security to a three-year extension of the program. Whether or not there is support for such a measure, remains to be seen.

There’s also the question of how the bill gets through Congress. Passing a standalone immigration bill may be too heavy of a lift; the next must-pass legislation that it can be tied to needs to be passed by March 23.

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