A federal judge on Tuesday (April 24) ruled that the Trump administration must continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects young immigrants with undocumented status from deportation. The decision is the third by a federal judge that rejects the annulment of the program, but it goes further than previous rulings by ordering the government to reopen DACA to new applicants. 

Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that “DACA’s rescission was arbitrary and capricious because the Department [of Homeland Security] failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful.” He added: “Neither the meager legal reasoning nor the assessment of litigation risk provided by DHS to support its rescission decision is sufficient to sustain termination of the DACA program.”

Bates stayed the decision, giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 90 days to produce a sound argument for ending DACA. If it fails to do so, the agency must begin to process new applications, potentially opening the program to tens of thousands of immigrants.

Some 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children benefit from DACA, which also allows them to attend school and work. The Trump administration’s plans to phase out the program in March were halted after two federal judges ordered the government to leave the program in place.

In February, a Brooklyn federal judge ruled that, while the Trump administration had the authority to rescind DACA, the government’s explanation for ending the program was too discretionary. That decision followed a January ruling by a federal judge in San Fransisco, who argued that DACA must remain in place while litigation challenging DACA’s rescission winds its way through courts. But neither of these decisions required the Trump administration to accept new DACA applications.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday insisted that the administration acted within the law in rescinding DACA. “Today’s order doesn’t change the Department of Justice’s position on the facts: DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend benefits to this same group of illegal aliens,” Devin O’Malley, a DOJ spokesperson, said in a statement to press, according to The Guardian.

Immigration advocates celebrated Bates’ decision. “Tonight’s decision by Judge Bates verifies the Trump administration failed to prove the DACA program is illegal,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forumsaid in a Twitter thread. “Either Trump finds another way to end the program, tossing hundreds of thousands of young people into deportation proceedings, or he works with Rs and Ds to find a legislative solution that secures our border and ensures Dreamers continue contributing to our economy.”