In the meantime, the administration will continue to renew two-year work permits as they expire but will stop accepting new applications for the program.
The decision allows President Donald Trump to say that he is fulfilling a campaign pledge to end the DACA program, which President Barack Obama established in 2012, while also attempting to shift responsibility to Congress for the impact on the nearly 800,000 people currently covered by the program.
Trump emphasized that effort in an early-morning message on Twitter.
Under the administration’s plan, several thousand people a week would begin losing their legal right to work in the U.S. as of March 6. But because current permits will be renewed until then, the program would not be fully phased out until March 2020.
DACA, formally Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, shields people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, the so-called Dreamers — a politically attractive group for whom Trump has often expressed sympathy.
Tossing the issue to Congress could create a serious split among Republican lawmakers. Many Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) have said they favor a measure to give permanent legal status to the Dreamers. But many rank-and-file Republicans oppose the idea.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the administration’s action, said Obama’s action in creating the program went beyond his legal authority.
Obama's DACA order was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” said Sessions, who has been one of the administration’s leading opponents of the program.
“The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach” in court, he added. Several Republican state attorneys general have threatened to challenge the program in court.
“We cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Sessions added.
Trump repeatedly promised to end his predecessor’s program during an election campaign in which he vowed more broadly to crack down on those in the country illegally, including longtime residents.
But since taking office, Trump has balked at fulfilling that pledge against Dreamers, professing a sympathy for their situation that was encouraged by his daughter Ivanka Trump.
White House aides who also favor tighter immigration restrictions have privately hoped the states' threat of litigation against DACA would pressure Trump to take action or prompt a court to end the program and shield Trump from political blowback.
In recent days, as Trump seemed poised to move against the program, its backers in business and politics mobilized to defend DACA in a campaign that included some of the nation's best-known corporations.
"Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs," wrote hundreds of business and tech industry leaders, including executives of Apple, EBay, Crate and Barrel, Cushman & Wakefield, Microsoft and Starbucks, in an open letter to Trump and congressional leaders.
"As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we are concerned about new developments in immigration policy that threaten the future of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children," they said.
Ryan, who also had implored Trump not to end the program, suggested Friday that he hold off while Congress considers a legislative solution for the young people in "limbo."
"I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix," Ryan said on WCLO radio in his hometown of Janesville, Wis.