Immigration activists stage a protest on Independence Avenue in Washington, DC March 5, 2018.
Alex Wong—Getty Images
By Maya Rhodan
April 25, 2018

A federal judge dealt yet another blow to the White House’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shields some 700,000 immigrants from deportation.

In an order released on Tuesday night, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said the Trump administration’s decision to roll back the program was “arbitrary and capricious because the Department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful.”

As such, Judge Bates rescinded the Trump administration’s decision, but gave the government 90 days to deliver a stronger case on why it believes the DACA program is unlawful.

The judge’s decision leaves open the possibility that the program could be fully restored — earlier rulings have made it so current recipients of DACA could renew their applications even after deadlines set by the Trump administration have passed.

Under this ruling, if the government does not offer up a satisfactory explanation for why Trump discontinued DACA in 90 days, new applicants could be allowed to seek DACA protections, authorization that allows eligible immigrants to work and attend school without fear of deportation.

What this means for the so-called Dreamers, though, is yet to be seen. Because the judge stayed the order for 90 days to give the government time to craft a stronger argument, nothing changes immediately. Bates’ order also does not effect the older court decisions that have made it so current enrollees are able to renew their DACA.

The order could be great news for the thousands of people who would have been eligible for DACA had the program not ended. A major requirement for DACA eligibility is that the applicant be at least 15-years-old when they apply and according to the Center for American Progress, an estimated 23,000 young people turned 15-years-old after the Trump administration ended the program on Sept. 5, 2017.

But by giving the government 90 days to tighten up it’s legal argument, the judge offered the Trump administration a bit of leeway. If the judge finds that the updated explanation is sufficient, it is possible that new applicants would still be unable to apply.

Regardless, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick to denounce the judge’s decision, calling it “good news for smuggling organizations and criminal networks and horrible news for our national security” at Wednesday’s press briefing.

In the meantime, a real solution to the back-and-forth over DACA could come via Congressional intervention but that is highly unlikely. Several bipartisan solutions have been floated since last fall, but the President has rejected plans that do not align with his hard-line views on immigration.

Write to Maya Rhodan at maya.rhodan@time.com.

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