Although a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to keep in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), recipients may not see any benefits soon, or at all.

In Tuesday’s court order, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup said immigration officials must begin to process DACA renewal applications again. 

The ruling applies only to those who had DACA before President Donald Trump ended the program in September and does not apply to first-time applicants. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “shall post reasonable public notice that it will resume receiving DACA renewal applications and prescribe a process consistent with this order,” the court ruling says. 

Immigration officials were also ordered to “keep records on all DACA-related applications and provide summary reports to the court (and counsel) on the first business day of each quarter.” 

“It’s a victory for our democracy, in which the courts continue to serve as an important check and balance against the un-American and unlawful actions of this administration,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters.

Hincapie, however, says it might be “days, weeks, months” before anyone benefits from the court’s order. 

“The court in the decision has made very clear that people with renewal applications would be able to go forward, but that DHS (Department Homeland Security) should within a reasonable period of time issue notice explaining how individuals would be able to do that,” she said.

But the Trump administration has already announced its intention to appeal, setting off what advocates say will be a “legal ping-pong,” which could take months before actual relief is implemented, if at all.

Ruling’s effect on Congress

When he ended the program in September, Trump gave Congress six months to find a legislative fix for the roughly 800,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally when they were children.

Though the White House on Wednesday morning said the court decision was “outrageous,” it is not clear if it will impact the immigration negotiations in Congress. 

“(Trump) persistently and relentlessly promised an end to DACA. Well, technically, he has announced that that will happen on March 5 of this year, but also he is working to trade it for a series of immigration enforcement deals,” Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said. 

Later Wednesday, Trump once again specified that funding for a border wall must be part of a DACA deal.

If Alsup’s 49-page ruling holds up, the March 5 deadline is gone. Alsup said the courts would need more time, and the temporary restraining order would remain in place past that date. 

Anyone whose DACA benefits expire after March 5 could renew them until the case is fully litigated. 

Government reaction

“DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens. As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement reacting to the ruling. The Justice Department will “continue to vigorously defend this position and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation,” he said.

It is unknown when DOJ will file its appeal. The agency declined to comment to VOA. 

Michael Tan, an attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project (IRP), said until the government does appeal, the ruling is in effect. 

“They haven’t done so, yet. They could be quick. They could take their time. I think if they move ahead with an appeal, they will also seek a stay of the court’s order,” Tan said. 

Lost in the mail

Separately, USCIS recently made an exception for DACA recipients to resubmit their documentation after U.S. Postal Service delays affected the arrival of renewal applications for benefits set to expire before March 5 — the last of the renewals to be processed with the program ending. 

USCIS spokesman Steve Blando said 1,900 DACA recipients were affected. He said DACA recipients had 33 days to resubmit their renewal forms but priority would not be given to applicants who had their documents held up by the post office. 

While the post office apologized for the delays, USCIS initially refused to accept the applications. 

According to the agency, 200 applicants resubmitted their documents before the government reached out to them, and about 1,700 are expected to receive letters from the immigration agency.

Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, said Americans may have a better idea on what will happen on DACA in the next nine days. Congress faces a Jan. 19 deadline to reach agreement on U.S. government spending, and Democrats may hold their votes unless there is a fix for DACA.

“What are the items the Democrats are going to insist upon? Is that going to include a clean DACA bill? What are they going to stand for, and what’s going to end up being let go?” Michelson said. 

VOA’s Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.

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