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By Dan Levine

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge issued an order on Wednesday blocking the Department of Justice from taking actions that immigration lawyers say would severely limit their ability to provide services for people facing deportation.

Unlike criminal court, people fighting deportation in U.S. immigration courts are not guaranteed the right to an attorney. Nonprofits across the country often provide legal services for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

President Donald Trump's administration has made tougher immigration enforcement a key priority.

The government had told the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a nonprofit in Washington state, that it could not advise people in immigration court without formally representing them.

The project argued that it did not have resources to formally represent everyone it advises, and much of the work involves informally guiding people how to file legal documents on their own behalf. It filed a lawsuit against the government earlier this month in Seattle federal court.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, a George W. Bush appointee, on Wednesday granted the nonprofit group's request for a temporary restraining order, according to a court docket entry.

Jones's order prevents the Justice Department from enforcing the formal representation rule against legal nonprofits across the country, said Glenda Aldana Madrid, a staff attorney at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The government's move attracted opposition from several legal nonprofits, which argued in court filings that it could have widespread impact. At a hearing on Wednesday, a Justice Department attorney said the government was not aware of any other groups being similarly targeted, Madrid said.

The judge's restraining order will remain in place while both sides litigate over a pretrial injunction, she said.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Chang)

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