WASHINGTON - A Justice Department investigation has found Yale University is illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants, in violation of federal civil rights law, officials said Thursday.

Yale denied the allegation, calling it "meritless" and "hasty."

The findings detailed in a letter to the college's attorneys mark the latest action by the Trump administration aimed at rooting out discrimination in the college application process, following complaints from students about the application process at some Ivy League colleges. The Justice Department had previously filed court papers siding with Asian American groups who had levied similar allegations against Harvard University.

The two-year investigation concluded that Yale "rejects scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit," the Justice Department said. The investigation stemmed from a 2016 complaint against Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

"Yale's race discrimination imposes undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular Asian American and White applicants," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who heads the department's civil rights division, wrote to the college's attorneys.

Prosecutors found that Yale has been discriminating against applicants to its undergraduate program based on their race and national origin and "that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year." The investigation concluded that Asian American and white students have "only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials." "Unlawfully dividing Americans into racial and ethnic blocs fosters stereotypes, bitterness, and division," Dreiband said. "It is past time for American institutions to recognize that all people should be treated with decency and respect and without unlawful regard to the color of their skin."

The investigation also found that Yale uses race as a factor in multiple steps of the admissions process and that Yale "racially balances its classes."

The Supreme Court has ruled colleges and universities may consider race in admissions but has said that must be done in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity and should be limited in time. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

Yale said it "categorically denies this allegation" and has cooperated fully with the investigation. "We are dismayed that the DOJ has made its determination before allowing Yale to provide all the information the Department has requested thus far. Had the Department fully received and fairly weighed this information, it would have concluded that Yale's practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent."

The university said it considers a multitude of factors and looks at "the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants."

"We are proud of Yale's admissions practices, and we will not change them on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation," the statement said.

The Justice Department demanded that Yale immediately agree not to use race or national origin for admissions. The government also says that if Yale proposes using race or national origin as a factor in future admissions, the college must first submit a plan to the Justice Department "demonstrating its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law."