The US Supreme Court has inflicted a blow on the Trump administration’s bid to end a programme letting young undocumented immigrants stay in the US.
The administration asked the justices whether it was entitled to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) scheme next month.
But the high court said it would not hear the case as no appeals court has yet ruled on the issue.
Lower courts blocked the president’s plan to scrap Daca by 5 March.
The ongoing political and judicial to and fro leaves some 700,000 mostly Hispanic children and young adults – known as Dreamers – in legal limbo.
The administration was seeking permission from the Supreme Court to continue dismantling Daca while various legal challenges unfold.
But the justices said in a brief order on Monday morning that the appeal was “denied without prejudice”, without explaining their reasoning.
The Supreme Court also said it expects the lower court system to “proceed expeditiously to decide this case”.
White House spokesman Raj Shah avoided criticising the Supreme Court itself in a statement.
But he said Daca was “clearly unlawful” and accused the lower courts of “a usurpation of legislative authority”.
There is still no agreement in Congress about what could replace Daca, though some members of Congress are reportedly working on new proposals.
However, the Supreme Court’s decision could delay discussions on Daca to after the midterm elections in November.
On Monday, President Trump said at a meeting at the White House: “We’ll see what happens. That’s my attitude.”
He announced an end to the Obama-era dispensation last autumn.
But federal courts have since ruled existing claimants should be allowed to have their status renewed beyond next month, pending further legal decisions.
San Francisco-based US District Judge William Alsup issued a nationwide injunction last month that Daca must remain in place while the litigation is resolved.
The Supreme Court is also due to hear arguments in April on the legality of President Trump’s travel ban order barring entry to people from several Muslim-majority nations.
What is Daca?
The scheme was created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama to shield children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
It also provided work and study permits for those it covered.
In order to qualify for Daca, applicants under the age of 30 were required to submit personal information to the Department of Homeland Security, including addresses and phone numbers.
They had to pass an FBI background check, have a clean criminal background, and either be in school, recently graduated or have been honourably discharged from the military.
In exchange, the US government agreed to “defer” any action on their immigration status for a period of two years.
The majority of dreamers are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.