By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court could say on Friday whether it will consider President Donald Trump's appeal of a lower court decision blocking his order to end a program that shields hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
The problem of what to do about the Dreamers, as the immigrants are known, landed back in the court system this week after the U.S. Senate debated the matter for several days and failed to approve any legislation.
With the fate of the 700,000 Dreamers, who were brought illegally into the United States years ago as children, still in limbo, the high court's nine justices were set to meet privately on Friday morning to discuss what cases they will hear.
If the court does not act on Friday, it could do so on Tuesday, after Monday's Presidents Day holiday.
If they accept the Trump appeal, they would likely not rule on it until late June. If they refuse to hear it, the lower court ruling would stay in effect while litigation continues.
That would give Congress more time to address the issue beyond a March 5 deadline set by Trump in September when he ordered an end to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects the Dreamers from deportation.
On Friday in a post on Twitter, Trump blamed Democrats for the problem created by his order: “Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats...totally abandoned! Republicans are still working hard."
Republican Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, said in an interview with Fox News Channel that the issue remains critical.
"The president, by ending the DACA program because it was unconstitutional and then turning to Congress and saying, 'Fix it,' created an opportunity," Goodlatte said. "We are working very hard to pass legislation."
The administration is appealing San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge William Alsup's Jan. 9 decision that halted Trump's order to end DACA, implemented in 2012 by Democratic former President Barack Obama.
Under Trump's order, DACA would begin phasing out on March 5. If Alsup's decision remains in place, DACA beneficiaries can continue to reapply for its protection past that deadline, but the administration is not processing new applications.
DACA granted roughly 700,000 mostly Hispanic young adults protection from deportation and work permits for two-year periods, after which they had to reapply.
An estimated 1.8 million people eligible for the program represent about a sixth of the more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
The Senate on Thursday rejected four immigration bills, three of which offered protections for the Dreamers.
Trump, who has made immigration a signature issue, has endorsed Republican legislation that would provide Dreamers a path to citizenship but also would scale back legal immigration and provide money that could be used to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. It remains unclear whether Congress can pass legislation and, if so, whether Trump will sign it into law.
Trump's move to rescind DACA prompted legal challenges by Democratic state attorneys general and various organizations and individuals in multiple federal courts. His administration argued that Obama exceeded his powers under the Constitution when he bypassed Congress and created DACA.
On Tuesday, a second U.S. judge issued a similar injunction ordering the Trump administration to keep DACA in place. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn ruled in a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs including a group of states led by New York.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)