- The Trump administration announced Tuesday it was ending the program known as DACA.
- The program shields 800,000 young immigrants from deportation and allows them to work legally.
- The program will be phased out over six months, allowing Congress time to craft a “permanent legislative solution.”
The Trump administration on Tuesday announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a controversial Obama-era policy that shields from deportation nearly 800,000 young immigrants living in the country illegally after being brought to the US as minors.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press conference that the Trump administration would begin “an orderly and lawful wind-down” of the program, originally implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012.
“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone that wants to come here,” Sessions said. “As attorney general, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld.”
Sessions also lambasted Obama for implementing an “unconstitutional exercise of authority,” and he described the 800,000 DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens” that had deprived American citizens of jobs and encouraged further illegal immigration.
“The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences,” Sessions said. “It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
President Donald Trump said in a statement that the action was aimed at creating a permanent legislative solution to the issue.
“There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will,” he said, adding, “It is now time for Congress to act!”
Backlash to the announcement was swift. Democratic lawmakers called the Trump administration’s decision “heartless” and “shameful.”
“Most Americans know how heartless the DACA decision is; ripping apart families and telling people who have worked hard to become Americans for years that they have to leave the country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “The human and economic toll of rescinding DACA will be far reaching and Democrats will do everything we can to prevent President Trump’s terribly wrong order from becoming reality.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement called the decision “a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had in recent days criticised the notion of repealing DACA, said he hoped the House, Senate, and Trump administration would come together to create a “permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”
“However well-intentioned, President Obama’s DACA program was a clear abuse of executive authority, an attempt to create law out of thin air,” Ryan said in a statement. “Just as the courts have already struck down similar Obama policy, this was never a viable long-term solution to this challenge.”
‘An orderly and lawful wind-down’
Sessions gave no details on how the program would be wound down, but a press release from the Department of Homeland Security — first reported by the news website Axios — said the program would be phased out over six months.
The release, from Elaine Duke, the acting DHS secretary, said no DACA recipients “will be impacted before March 5, 2018, nearly six months from now, so Congress can have time to deliver on appropriate legislative solutions.
“However,” the release continued, “I want to be clear that no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on.”
The delayed repeal effectively kicks the issue to Congress for a resolution. Earlier Tuesday, Trump fired a warning shot.
“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” he wrote on Twitter.
According to an ABC News report, which cited two administration officials, the new policy will dictate that the federal government will not accept DACA applications dated after September 5 but will continue to process existing applications.
The policy will also allow DACA recipients with permits that expire before March 5, 2018, a month from Tuesday to apply for a renewal.
The policy would effectively ensure that some DACA recipients could lose their permits as early as March 6, 2018, while others may continue to use the program over the next two years.
The officials told ABC that the federal government would prioritise for deportation immigrants who have committed crimes unrelated to immigration, not former DACA recipients, even if Congress does not enact new protections over the next six months.
The widely anticipated decision came after both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security reportedly held internal discussions about the fate of the program in recent weeks.
Trump repeatedly vowed throughout his presidential campaign to terminate DACA, blasting the policy as unconstitutional. Yet he had wavered on the program during his presidency.
“We are going to deal with DACA with heart,” Trump said at a February news conference, adding that the decision was “very, very difficult.”
“To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases,” he said. “But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly — they were brought here in such a way. It’s a very, very tough subject.”
What is DACA?
Obama launched DACA in 2012, offering young immigrants the chance to apply for temporary protection from deportation. The program does not grant legal status to immigrants, nor does it put them on paths to citizenship or legalization, but the protection allows them to receive authorization to work legally in the US and in certain states to apply for a driver’s licence.
Immigration advocates have pleaded with Trump to keep the program in place. They have argued that the immigrants who benefit from DACA should be treated with compassion — they were typically brought to the US by their parents at a very young age and in many cases grew up without realising they lived in the country illegally. DACA recipients, known frequently as “Dreamers,” are required to meet criteria such as never having been convicted of a felony or “significant” misdemeanour.
Critics — including prominent Trump administration officials like Sessions — have derided the program as an abuse of Obama’s presidential power and criticised its broad scale, the work-authorization component, and the potential for immigrants to exploit a loophole that could place them on a path to citizenship.
The lingering uncertainty around DACA’s future under the Trump administration has roiled the immigrant community for months and left DACA recipients panicked and unsure of what steps to take in the meantime.
“They’re in panic mode,” said Reaz Jafri, an immigration lawyer at the law firm Withers Bergman, whose clients include DACA recipients and their employers.
“DACA invited people who were in the shadows to come forth, get biometrics taken, get put in the system, get a Social Security number, get a job, take out a loan, open a bank account, get a credit card,” Jafri told Business Insider.
“They’re wondering, ‘Now that I’m no longer protected, can ICE now come and find me? Because ICE now knows where I live, where I work.'”
Though Trump’s stance toward the program had wavered, he was required to make a decision by Tuesday or face a lawsuit. In June, 10 attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, wrote to Sessions setting the September deadline and threatening to sue over DACA using the same legal framework that successfully challenged a 2014 expansion to DACA and the establishment of a companion program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.
The letter called DACA “unlawful” and said it “unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization … and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress.”
As the deadline for a decision drew near, immigration advocates pointed to the consequences of rescinding protection and work authorization from the nearly 800,000 immigrants who depend on it. A recent study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress and the lobbying group FWD.us found that if DACA were repealed, roughly 700,000 workers would lose their jobs over the next two years and the estimated loss of their labour could cost the country $US460.3 billion in economic output over the next decade.
“Ending DACA would place severe economic strain on businesses around the country, putting them into the impossible and extremely costly position of having to fire productive employees for no other reason than an arbitrary change in federal policy, potentially resulting in backlash from other employees or their broader community,” the report said.
The intense pushback from immigration advocates to a potential repeal of DACA hasn’t fallen on deaf ears — on Friday, one of the 10 attorneys general who signed the original letter announced his state would stand down on the lawsuit, citing the “human element” of rescinding the program.
“Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery wrote in a letter to the state’s two Republican senators.
“They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country … our Office has decided not to challenge DACA in the litigation, because we believe there is a better approach.”
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