By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that President Donald Trump cannot end a program that shielded from deportation immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, the second time the administration has lost an appeal on the issue.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said in its ruling that the 2017 rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program violated administrative law because the policy change was not adequately explained.
The ruling reversed a decision by a federal court in Maryland, and sent the case back for further proceedings.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
Republican Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, began DACA in 2012. It shielded a group of immigrants known as "Dreamers" and has given them work permits but not a path to citizenship. About 800,000 people, mostly Hispanics, have received DACA protection.
Trump has taken a stern stance against illegal immigration. His administration announced plans in September 2017 to phase out DACA, arguing that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he bypassed Congress and created the program.
Rights groups, states and individuals filed numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration over the decision to end the program. A series of lower courts have generally ruled against the government, leaving DACA in place for now.
The appeals court in Virginia found by a 2-1 decision that the rescission of DACA was arbitrary and capricious and violated administrative law.
Judge Robert King, appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, and Judge Albert Diaz, appointed by Obama, formed the majority. Judge Julius Richardson, who was appointed by Trump, dissented.
A similar decision was reached by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in November, which upheld a lower court injunction against ending the program.
The Supreme Court currently has three Trump administration appeals pending that seek to revive the administration's DACA proposal but the justices have so far delayed acting on them. It is likely the conservative-leaning court will ultimately have the final say on the issue.
On Thursday, Trump unveiled a proposed overhaul of the U.S. immigration system to favor educated English speakers over people with family ties to Americans, a plan he will push in his 2020 re-election campaign.
But the plan did not include protections for 'Dreamers,' a sticking point for Democratic lawmakers who say a permanent fix for this group of immigrants must be part of any proposed policy changes.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)