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Lawyer: All new DACA applications put in 'pending' bucket

PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. government said Friday that it’s putting new DACA applications in a “pending” bucket while officials decide whether to again try to end the program for young immigrants, keeping enrollment stalled even though the Supreme Court ruled last month that it was improperly ended.

The latest came during a telephonic federal court hearing in Maryland by U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm, who last week ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program must be restored to its original form, before President Donald Trump attempted to end it in September 2017.

Immigrant advocates who sued the government over its attempt to end DACA say new rulings in the case, including the one by the Supreme Court, mean the government must resume accepting and considering first-time applications. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had only been accepting renewals for DACA recipients who were already enrolled by Sept. 5, 2017.

DACA allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally work and shields them from deportation. About 650,000 are enrolled, but another 66,000 now meet age requirements to join, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that the Trump administration didn’t properly end the program. The administration can still end it, but has to go about it differently. In the meantime, lawyers with the nonprofit advocacy group Casa de Maryland, which filed one of the several lawsuits challenging the end of the program, say the Supreme Court ruling and two others mean DACA should revert to its original form — accepting new applications as well as requests to travel abroad, known as advanced parole.

A government attorney said Friday that USCIS hasn't updated its website to reflect that it is accepting new applications, and that it had rejected some new applications on incorrect grounds and others because they weren't filled out correctly or were missing information.

But the lawyer, Stephen Michael Pezzi, said that in general the agency is accepting new applications, putting them on tentative status while the administration decides what to do with DACA. That means that any new applicants aren’t likely to be approved unless a court orders it or the administration decides to keep the program.

Grimm did not seem inclined to wade into whether the government should accept or reject new applications while it decides what to do with the program, but he did chide it for not having updated information on its website and for not explaining rejections to applicants who had flaws in their application, such as a missing signature.

“I think frankly the agency ought to be the first to want to have that corrected and it seems to me that we ought to be able to get some sense as to when that will be corrected,” Grimm said. Grimm told the government he’d like the website to be updated within 30 days, and he gave its lawyers until next week to figure out whether USCIS can develop some sort of process where they acknowledge receipt of new applications so that applicants will know their status.

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