President Donald Trump on Tuesday scrapped an Obama-era program that protects from deportation immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children, delaying implementation until March and giving a gridlocked Congress six months to decide the fate of almost 800,000 young people.
As the so-called Dreamers who have benefited from the five-year-old program were plunged into uncertainty, business and religious leaders, mayors, governors, Democratic lawmakers, unions, civil liberties advocates and former Democratic President Barack Obama all condemned Trump’s move.
The action was announced not by Trump but by Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, who called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program an unconstitutional overreach by Obama. There will be an “orderly, lawful wind-down,” Sessions said.
Trump later issued a written statement saying that “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are (a) nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
He denounced Obama’s program as an “amnesty-first approach” toward illegal immigrants and pressed his nationalist “America First” message, saying that despite concerns voiced by his critics about the fate of the Dreamers, “Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams too.”
Obama issued his own statement calling Trump’s action a political decision, defending DACA’s legality and urging Congress to protect Dreamers.
“This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said.
The Trump administration said nobody covered by the program, which provided work permits in addition to deportation protection and primarily benefits Hispanics, would be affected before March 5. Most people covered by DACA are in their 20s.
Trump shifted responsibility to a Congress controlled by his fellow Republicans and said it was now up to lawmakers to pass immigration legislation that could address the fate of those protected by DACA who would be in danger of deportation.
Neither Trump nor Sessions offered details of the type of legislation they would want to see, and Trump’s spokeswoman offered only a broad outline.
However, former President Barack Obama on Tuesday described the decision to rescind the programme he instituted to protect from deportation illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children was “cruel,” “self-defeating” and “wrong.”
“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally,” Obama said in a post on Facebook. “It’s a political decision and a moral question.”
“Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us,” he wrote.