The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday finalized a rule that will turn the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into federal regulation protected from legal challenges.

The DACA program has helped hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in the U.S. as children and are living in the country illegally to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

“This ruling is an important step forward in preserving protections for 600,000 DACA recipients,” California Sen. Alex Padilla said in a statement today. “DACA recipients are American in every way except on paper. They are essential workers who have helped us get through the pandemic as doctors, teachers, farm workers, and grocery store clerks. They contribute to our economy and are part of the fabric of our communities.”

Since its inception in 2012 during the Obama administration, DACA has faced legal challenges.

During the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration tried to end DACA, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the program. Still, the Trump administration created other obstacles for DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” including rejecting new applications, renewals and shortening renewal periods.

Most recently in 2021, Texas U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that DACA was illegal, which prevented the Biden administration from signing on new applicants.

The final rule that DHS issued Wednesday, which was first introduced in March 2021, is expected to maintain the longstanding eligibility rules for DACA and allow the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to once again begin granting DACA requests. It will go into effect on Oct. 31.

But still, officials say DACA has always been a temporary fix and stronger legislation to put “Dreamers” on a path to citizenship is the next step.

“While I would have liked to have seen DACA eligibility expanded and for other reforms to be made to the program, it’s clear Congress must take action,” Padilla said. “Any day now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the legality of the DACA program, which could once again put DACA beneficiaries at risk.”

Trump administration won’t accept new DACA applications, defying Supreme Court ruling