WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The US Supreme Court on Monday (Feb 26) declined an unusual White House request that it immediately decide whether the Trump administration can shut down a programme that shields some 700,000 young immigrants from deportation.
The move meant that the immigrants, often called "Dreamers," could remain in legal limbo for many months unless Congress acts to make their status permanent.
The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the administration's appeal was expected, as no appeals court has ruled on the issue. The court's order was brief, gave no reasons and noted no dissents.
It said it expected the appeals court to "proceed expeditiously to decide this case."
President Donald Trump ended the programme, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), in September 2017, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power by his predecessor and reviving the threat of deportation for immigrants who had been brought to the United States illegally as children.
But two federal judges have ordered the administration to maintain major pieces of the programme while legal challenges move forward, notably by requiring the administration to allow people enrolled in it to renew their protected status.
The Supreme Court's decision on Monday not to hear the government's appeal will keep the programme alive for months. The administration has not sought stays of those injunctions.
The Supreme Court's move will, as a practical matter, temporarily shield the young immigrants who had signed up for the DACA programme from immediate deportation, and allow them to keep working legally in the United States. Their status lasts for two years and is renewable.
The court's decision not to hear the appeal could also relieve the immediate political pressure on lawmakers to permanently address the status of those immigrants, or to deal with the additional 1 million young immigrants who had never signed up for the DACA programme. They remain at risk of deportation if immigration agents find them.
Even as he ended the DACA programme, Trump had called upon Congress to give the young immigrants legal status, and an eventual path to citizenship, before the programme was scheduled to expire March 5.
But that proposal has been bogged down in partisan gridlock as members of Congress argue about broader changes to the US immigration system that the president and his conservative allies in Congress have demanded as part of any deal to address the future of the young immigrants.
This month, senators failed to reach consensus in a series of votes on bills to address the young immigrants and other immigration issues. A bipartisan coalition in the Senate roundly rejected a measure backed by Trump that would have all but ended the family-based migration system that has been in place for decades.
A separate bipartisan measure that would have legalised the young immigrants and allocated US$25 billion (S$32.9 billion) for a wall on the border with Mexico fell six votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to a final vote.
Now, the court's action is likely to lessen the urgency on Capitol Hill over the issue, making it even more probable that Congress will take no action as the legal process plays out.
As a possible fallback plan after the Senate's failure this month, lawmakers could negotiate a short-term patch that would continue the DACA programme for a few years, perhaps in exchange for partial funding of Trump's wall.
Such a deal could be tucked into a broad spending Bill that lawmakers must approve by March 23, when government funding is set to expire.
But the court's move could undercut any momentum to push for even a very narrow deal in the next few weeks, and there has been little evidence of progress toward any kind of bipartisan pact that would be acceptable to Trump.
House Republican leaders still appear focused on a hard-line conservative immigration Bill that would be a nonstarter in the Senate.
"While the court's decision appears to have pushed this deadline beyond March, House Republicans are actively working toward a solution," said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Trump has repeatedly condemned Democrats in recent days, accusing them of not caring about the young immigrants. In one recent Twitter post, he said Republicans "stand ready to make a deal" to protect the young immigrants from deportation.
But Democrats, and some Republicans, accuse Trump and his hard-line conservative White House advisers of using the young immigrants as leverage for changes to the immigration system that conservative, anti-immigrant activists have long sought.