The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court Monday to consider President Donald Trump's plan to end an Obama administration program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The request for the high court to intervene in three cases from California, New York and the District of Columbia came even as a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit was expected to render its verdict on the plan soon. Its decision would follow a federal district judge's decision in January that Trump lacked the authority to eliminate the program.
The high court in February refused to leapfrog that appeals court's review of Judge William Alsup's decision. And the Justice Department acknowledged in Monday's request that the appeals court ruling is likely to come first.
But the California-based appeals court is more likely to rule against Trump than the more conservative Supreme Court, one factor in the Justice Department's decision to seek the high court's review now. The administration wants to get the case on the justices' docket for the current term, which ends in June.
"Absent prompt intervention from this court, there is little chance the court would resolve this dispute for at least another year," Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in the government's petition.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, has protected more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation and enabled them to get work permits.
Last month, frustrated by delays, the department filed notice that it would seek the high court's intervention if the 9th Circuit court did not rule by Oct. 31.
"The district court’s order requires the government to indefinitely tolerate – and, indeed, affirmative sanction – an ongoing violation of federal law being committed by nearly 700,000 aliens pursuant to the DACA policy," the Justice Department said.
"Those decisions are wrong, and they warrant this court’s immediate review," Francisco said Monday.
The California, New York and D.C. challenges were brought by DACA proponents seeking to block Trump's actions. Sensing that those efforts might succeed, Texas and seven other states filed a separate lawsuit in hopes of having the program declared illegal.
In Texas, federal district Judge Andrew Hanen, who in 2015 struck down President Barack Obama's effort to extend protection to millions of undocumented parents, surprised immigration experts by refusing to stop the DACA program. He reasoned that while the program for parents never began, hundreds of thousands of their children had relied on DACA for up to six years.
"Here, the egg has been scrambled,” Hanen said. “To try to put it back in the shell with only a preliminary injunction record, and perhaps at great risk to many, does not make sense nor serve the best interests of this country.”
The dispute dates back to Obama's first term, when he established the program without congressional action. The goal was to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, but many Republicans called it executive overreach and have remained opposed to the program.
Trump vowed to end the program during the 2016 campaign but wavered during his initial months in office. Then last September, he announced that DACA would end six months later unless Congress replaced Obama's executive action with legislation.
Since then, Republicans and Democrats have been unable to compromise. Democrats want the program left alone; Republicans have used it as a bargaining chip to get other immigration enforcement and border security enhancements, including Trump's long-sought wall along the Mexican border.