by Alex Johnson
NBC News

A third federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the Trump administration's campaign to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented immigrants, ordering the administration not only to continue processing applications but also to resume accepting new ones.

U.S. District Judge John Bates of the District of Columbia was withering in his 60-page ruling, calling the administration's attempts to end the program, known as DACA, "arbitrary," "capricious," "virtually unexplained" and "unlawful."

Bates stayed the ruling for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security time to come up with better arguments for scrapping the program. If it doesn't, he wrote, he will enter an order reinstating DACA in its entirety.

The Trump administration had sought to phase out the program starting last month, but two previous federal rulings stalled its efforts. Neither of those rulings — by judges in New York and San Francisco — ordered the government to resume accepting new applications for protection under DACA, making Bates' ruling the strongest one so far.

"Each day that the agency delays is a day that aliens who might otherwise be eligible for initial grants of DACA benefits are exposed to removal because of an unlawful agency action," Bates wrote.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the administration's appeal of the San Francisco ruling.

The American Civil Liberties, one of the plaintiffs in the two cases that Bates reviewed, called the ruling "a huge blow to the Trump administration's bottom line."

"DACA is constitutional, deal with it," the ACLU said.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who launched one of the first legal actions against the administration's decision last year, also welcomed the ruling, calling it on Twitter a victory for Dreamers and "for everyone who has boldly fought in court."