By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
(CNN) -- A federal appeals court largely upheld a district court ruling finding that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is unlawful but sent the case back to the lower court to decide the legality of a new rule fortifying the program.
DACA, created in 2012, was intended to provide temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, a group often described as "Dreamers." Many of them are now adults.
There are more than 611,000 immigrants enrolled in the program, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Wednesday's ruling will not affect those currently in the program, but it will continue to block new applications.
Judge Andrew Hanen, of the Southern District of Texas, ruled in July 2021 that DACA was unlawful and blocked the government from approving new applications for the program. Hanen's order, however, allowed the program to continue for current enrollees while the case is litigated.
The appeals court preserved the stay in its ruling Wednesday.
"We also recognize that DACA has had profound significance to recipients and many others in the ten years since its adoption. Given the 'uncertainty of final disposition' and the 'inevitable disruption that would arise from a lack of continuity and stability,' we preserve the stay as to existing recipients," the ruling reads.
The Biden administration released a rule in August to "preserve and fortify" the DACA program, largely maintaining the criteria for the program. The federal appeals court acknowledged the new regulation in its ruling, saying the lower court should consider it.
"A district court is in the best position to review the administrative record in the rulemaking proceeding and determine whether our holdings as to the 2012 DACA Memorandum fully resolve issues concerning the Final Rule," the ruling states.
CNN reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment.
Immigrant advocates maintained that the onus is on Congress to provide protections to DACA recipients.
"The good news is that those currently with DACA will continue to live and work under the protections of the program. The bad news is that DACA is hanging by a thread," said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub, in a statement.
"With the direction of the courts clear, options for executive action limited, and a change in the composition of Congress possible, we want to be crystal clear: the only realistic way to protect the 610,000 young people with DACA is for Congress to act by the end of the year," he added.
Democrats and Republicans have been sympathetic to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, many of whom were under the age of 10. But the give and take between Democrats and Republicans over "Dreamers" has made it difficult to achieve a bipartisan compromise.
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