A federal judge grilled an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday over the Trump administration's justification for ending a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation, saying many people had come to rely on it and faced a "real" and "palpable" hardship from its loss.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup said former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy gave people the chance to work and made them "contributing, taxpaying members of the economy."
"Isn't that a huge thing to have so many people being a legitimate part of the economy?" the judge said at a court hearing in San Francisco.
Alsup is considering five lawsuits seeking to block President Donald Trump from rescinding DACA, which has protected about 800,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families who overstayed visas. He also is considering a government request to dismiss the suits.
He did not immediately issue a ruling Wednesday.
People took out loans, enrolled in school and even made decisions about whether to get married and start families on the basis of DACA and now face "horrific" consequences from the loss of the program, said Jeffrey Davidson, an attorney for the governing board of the University of California school system, which sued.
"The government considered none of this at all when they decided to rescind DACA," he said.
Alsup questioned whether the administration had conducted a thorough review before ending the program.
Brad Rosenberg, a Justice Department attorney, said the administration considered the effects of ending DACA and decided to phase it out over time instead of cutting it immediately.
DACA recipients will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for the remainder of their two-year authorizations. Any recipient whose status was due to expire within six months also got a month to apply for another two-year term.
Rosenberg said DACA was always a temporary measure and never extended any guarantees about its benefits.
"Perhaps it is worthwhile for Congress to consider the benefits of providing some form of relief to these individuals," he said.
The Justice Department said in court documents that DACA was facing the possibility of an abrupt end by court order, but Alsup was critical of that argument.
The program includes hundreds of thousands of college-age students commonly referred to as "dreamers," based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections for young immigrants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that DACA would be phased out, saying Obama had exceeded his authority when he implemented it in 2012.
The move sparked a flurry of lawsuits in different federal courts across the country, including one in New York filed by 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Alsup is considering five different lawsuits, including one brought by California and three other states and another by the governing board of the University of California school system.
"Today we continued our work in court to make sure Dreamers can continue to contribute to America," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement after the hearing. "We will fight for them with every tool we have."
Alsup had ordered the Trump administration to turn over all emails, letters and other documents it considered in its decision to end DACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out his ruling.
The justices said the lower court must consider other issues before tackling whether officials must release the documents. The high court said its move wasn't an indication of its views on the merits of either side.