By Franco Ordonez

Attorneys general from 20 states invoked the memory of a conservative icon, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to make a case that President Donald Trump should defend nearly a million young immigrants who could soon be back in line for deportation.

The group of Democratic attorneys general, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, pulled from the legal opinions of one of the most ideologically conservative justices _ and one of Trump's favorites _ to urge the administration to defend the Obama-era deferred action program, known as DACA.

By invoking Scalia, the Democratic coalition appears to be attempting to reach Trump on another, more personal level. Even before Trump was elected, he repeatedly vowed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with someone "in the mold" of Scalia. Trump once joked the best solution was for Scalia to be reincarnated.

The DACA program, which protects some 800,000 young immigrants known as "Dreamers," is under imminent threat because of a court challenge from Texas and nine other states.

"DACA is consistent with a long pattern of presidential exercises of prosecutorial discretion that targeted resources in a constitutional manner," the Democratic attorneys general wrote. "Indeed, as Justice Antonin Scalia recognized in a 1999 opinion, the Executive has a long history of 'engaging in a regular practice ... of exercising (deferred action) for humanitarian reasons or simply for its own convenience.'"

The Democratic coalition is twice the size of the 10-state group pressing the Trump administration to phase out the controversial program put in place in 2012 after a congressional effort to pass the DREAM Act failed. That group is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Trump administration has until Sept. 5 to decide whether to rescind the program or face a court challenge by the states.

Trump's top immigration official, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that the fate of the deferred action program will likely be determined by the courts, perhaps as soon as September, and that attorneys he's consulted with do not think the program is legally sustainable.

In their letter, the Democratic attorneys general explain how DACA has benefited their states and urge the president not to "capitulate" to Paxton's demands. Becerra refutes Paxton's arguments threatening litigation, saying they are "wrong as a matter of law and policy."

"Challenges have been brought against the original DACA program, including in the Fifth Circuit, but none have succeeded," Becerra wrote.

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau