A US appeals court has ruled the Trump administration must continue a programme begun under former president Barack Obama that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The decision by the San Fancisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals preserves the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme introduced in 2012 that has shielded from deportation a group of immigrants dubbed "Dreamers" and given them work permits, though not a path to citizenship.

The ruling represented another legal defeat for Mr Trump over DACA, although he has won court victories on other parts of his hardline immigration policies.

On Monday, his administration asked the US Supreme Court to review a federal judge's January decision to block Trump from ending the program even before the 9th Circuit had weighed in,an unusually aggressive move in terms of procedure.          

Mr Trump said on yesterday that he saw potential to work with Democrats, who won control of the House of Representatives this week, but he would have to see how the Supreme Court rules on the issue.

He has taken a stern stance against illegal immigration.

His administration announced plans in September 2017 to phaseout DACA, arguing that Mr Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he bypassed Congress and created the programme.

DACA offers protections to roughly 700,000 young adults, mostly Hispanics,who entered the country as children.

San Francisco-based US District Judge William Alsup decided in January the government must continue processing renewals of existing DACA applications while litigation over the legality of Mr Trump's action is resolved.

The administration in February unsuccessfully appealed Judge Alsup's ruling to the Supreme Court.