Little over a week before the programme is scheduled to expire, the United States Supreme Court has declined to review a federal judge's order that the Trump administration must continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.
The refusal to hear the case represents a temporary win for immigration advocates who have been fighting to keep the programme in place after President Donald Trump announced last year he would let it expire. Nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children -- a group known colloquially as Dreamers -- have been able to receive work permits under the programme, which was started in 2012 by former President Barack Obama.
Instead of choosing to hear the case this spring, the Supreme Court has decided to let the case run its normal course through the appeals court process. The highest court in the US could have decided to leapfrog that appeals process, which will now continue in a court in California that is generally seen as sympathetic to the cause of immigrants.
The court has asked that the appeals process to "proceed expeditiously", and left open the possibility that they might hear arguments in the case in the future, depending on how things play out in the lower courts.
A White House spokesman, responding to the Supreme Court's decision, accused the federal district court judge in San Francisco of usurping legislative authority to protect DACA.
"The DACA programme - which provides work permits and myriad government benefits to illegal immigrants en masse - is clearly unlawful," Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah said. "The district judge's decision unilaterally to re-impose a programme that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected is a usurpation of legislative authority."
The Supreme Court's decision, and the movement in the lower courts, comes as Congress attempts to grapple with the issue. Democrats have been advocating for a deal to help those young undocumented immigrants retain their semblance of legal status in the US, but have failed so far to reach a deal with Republican leadership. The GOP controls both the House and the Senate.
Most recently, the Senate has been weighing a short-term fix for the Dreamers before the March 5 deadline for the programme, according to The Hill. It is unclear what, if anything, might be able to make it through Congress and then be supported by Mr Trump.
"I can promise that I'll be back on the floor, again and again, motioning for a vote until we pass a bill providing relief for those struggling due to our inaction," Sen Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who has been negotiating with North Dakota's Democratic Senator, Heidi Heitkamp, on the deal. The deal would tie a three-year extension of protections to DACA recipients to $7.6 billion border security funding that has been sought by the Trump administration.
Congressional leadership has said that a short-term fix for the issue is not ideal, though some senators have begun to indicate that it may be the only way forward. Sen Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, has said that he could see a shorter-term deal coming up, if that is how leadership decides to move forward on that approach.
"I think we wind up punting. I think we'll do a one-year extension of DACA and punt," Mr Gaham said.
It is not clear at this time that a short-term deal that ties the DACA protections to a border security bill would be able to get the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. It is perhaps even more uncertain that such a deal would be able to make it through the House of Representatives, where prospects appear even slimmer.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies