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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump attends a signing ceremony for the Interdict Act into law, to provide Customs and Border Protection agents with the latest screening technology on the fight against the opioid crisis, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

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By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday said he could not ignore what he called "vicious" comments about Latinos made by President Donald Trump as he considers whether to block the president's decision to end a programme that protects immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children from deportation.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said at a hearing in Brooklyn that the Republican president's comments could be evidence that his September decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, or DACA, was motivated by Trump's "animus" toward Latinos, violating the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

"In this country, in over 230 years, this is not ordinary," Garaufis said, referring to Trump's comments on Twitter and elsewhere. "It's extreme. It's recurring. It's vicious."

The judge did not specify the Trump remarks with which he was taking issue. But Trump critics often point to his claim that Mexico was sending rapists and murderers into the United States, his disparaging words about a U.S. judge of Mexican-American heritage and other comments.

U.S. Justice Department lawyer Stephen Pezzi told Garaufis it would be going too far to conclude that, because Trump had commented about Latinos in the past, any action by his administration that disproportionately affected Latinos was unconstitutional.

Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that the administration had violated federal law by abruptly cutting off DACA with little explanation. Pezzi countered that the administration had ordered an "orderly wind-down" of DACA. Under Trump's action, DACA is set to expire in March.

Often called "Dreamers," hundreds of thousands of young adults, mostly Hispanics, have been granted protection from deportation and given work permits under DACA, which was created in 2012 under Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Garaufis is presiding over a lawsuit brought by several DACA recipients and by states including New York, Massachusetts and Washington. They are asking Garaufis to issue an injunction preserving DACA. Garaufis did not issue a ruling on Tuesday or say when he would.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued a Jan. 9 order keeping DACA in place, which Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told a news conference on Tuesday that the plaintiffs in the New York case were seeking an order covering people who became eligible for DACA since Trump's September action, while Alsup's order covered only people already with DACA protection.

Trump said last week he was open to a deal offering a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants eligible for DACA protections in exchange for curbing some legal immigration programs and providing funding for a U.S.-Mexican border wall.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Reuters