A federal judge's decision to stop President Trump from ending protections for so-called Dreamers offered the young immigrants a temporary reprieve but may have stalled the urgency in Congress toward a more lasting legislative solution.
The president on Wednesday denounced the federal courts as "broken and unfair" after a district judge in San Francisco issued a temporary ruling keeping the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place, despite Trump's decision to end it this year. The administration vowed to request a stay and appeal.
But the nationwide preliminary injunction produced cross-currents in Congress, where lawmakers have been meeting frantically in bipartisan groups to come up with deportation protections for some 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and have been working, attending school or serving in the military.
Pressure had been mounting for Congress to broker a deal by Jan. 19 as part of a must-pass budget package to fund the government. That motivation could slip after the federal judge's order, giving opponents an opening for continued delay.
"This is a huge step forward, but the fight is not over," said California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, who filed the suit.
"The real question now turns to the Congress and the president. Will they act?" Becerra said. "It is time for Congress to give us a lasting solution that will leave no doubt that the Dreamers are Americans and that they are here to stay."
Advocates for immigrants say more than 120 DACA recipients a day have already lost protected status, a number that is expected to swell to 1,000 in March if Trump's decision to end the program is allowed.
Adrian Reyna, a Dreamer and immigration activist, promised that Dreamers would continue flooding Capitol Hill offices as they have for weeks warning Congress about inaction.
"Don't let anyone tell you the urgency to get this done is not real," said Reyna, the Dream Act campaign director at United We Dream, a leading advocacy group.
"The clock is ticking," he said. "People have already lost protections."
On Tuesday night, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco temporarily blocked the Trump administration's decision to phase out DACA.
Alsup granted a request by the state of California, the University of California and other plaintiffs to stop Trump from ending DACA as planned on March 5.
The administration's decision to end DACA, which was announced in September, was based on a "flawed" legal analysis, Alsup wrote in his decision. Dreamers would be irreparably harmed if their DACA protections, which allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., were stripped away before the courts had a chance to fully consider their claims, he ruled.
"It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our court system is when the opposing side in a case (such as DACA) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts," Trump wrote in a tweet.
The White House suggested the court's ruling would make a legislative deal harder to obtain.
"We find this decision to be outrageous," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "An issue of this magnitude must go through the normal legislative process."
In announcing his intent to end the Obama-era program, which he viewed as an abuse of executive power, Trump also pushed Congress to develop a legislative fix, speaking favorably of the young immigrants and suggesting he did not necessarily want them to be deported.
One simple solution pushed by Democrats would be passage of the Dream Act, a bill that would give the young immigrants a path to legal status, and eventual citizenship, if they continue to be law-abiding.
Republicans in Congress, who mostly oppose DACA, are angling for a broader deal that would include elements of Trump's promised border wall with Mexico and other immigration reforms they are seeking.
Top conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh, warned Republicans off any deal that would include legal status — often derided as "amnesty" — for those here illegally.
Leaders of both parties met Wednesday in House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office to negotiate what Republicans called a timeline toward a deal.
"March the 5th is sort of the ultimate deadline, and we'd like to try to get organized so we can get to work. Everybody wants to get to a solution," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip, as he headed toward the session.
Others expected more substantial talks would emerge in the Senate, where a bipartisan group of six senators has been working for months on a package that could pass both chambers.
"We have made real progress," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) after the group met again Wednesday behind closed doors. "It's time for us to meet the president's challenge and to create a law which solves this problem."
Congress often works best when facing a deadline. Just a day earlier, Trump had convened 20 lawmakers at the White House that resulted in four priorities as the contours of a possible deal.
That deal would include beefed-up border security and other changes to immigration law in exchange for permanent protections for Dreamers.
Republicans also want to impose new limits on family reunification by preventing newly legal immigrants from applying to bring their family members to the United States.
Efforts to limit this so-called chain migration for spouses and children have largely been opposed by Democrats, but a 2013 bipartisan immigration overhaul bill in the Senate included tweaks that would have restricted immigrants' siblings from being eligible.
Democrats also are considering a Republican proposal to overhaul the diversity lottery that Trump also wants to end. It would transfer some, if not all, of the 50,000 annual visas that are available in a lottery system to immigrants now in the United States under temporary protective status. That could help some of the more than 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants who must leave the country after the Trump administration said it would end the program.
But the two sides remain far apart on the details of a compromise, especially as Trump insists on as much as $18 billion for his promised border wall — a nonstarter for Democrats.
"We need the wall," Trump said following his meeting Wednesday with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House. "Any solution has to include the wall. Without the wall it all doesn't work."
But the president has also indicated that the "big, beautiful wall" he once promised on the campaign trail would not necessarily need to span 2,000 miles of the border but could involve fencing and other measures, including technology, to deter illegal crossings.
As the discussions drag on, some of those involved in the talks warned that the judge's ruling could embolden opponents who want to delay any deal.
"I'm worried that some might see this as not necessary now, or hold off longer," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as he entered Wednesday's session.
House Democrats protested the standoff by forcing procedural votes on the floor to push Republicans, who have majority control, to bring the Dream Act forward. Some say they will withhold their votes on next week's bill to fund the government unless it is included.
"Deadlines always help," said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), part of the Senate negotiating group.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer agreed, saying on the Senate floor: "The ruling last night in no way diminishes the urgency of solving the DACA issue…. We cannot wait…. Delay is a tactic employed by those who do not wish to see a deal."
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento contributed to this report.
3:05 p.m.: The article was updated with more reaction from California officials, lawmakers and immigration activists.
9:15 a.m.: The article was updated with more reaction from lawmakers and some analysis.