Donald Trump has scrapped an Obama-era program that protects from deportation immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children, known as the “Dreamers”, delaying implementation until March and giving a gridlocked Congress six months to decide the fate of almost 800,000 young people.
The announcement has plunged those that have benefited from the five-year-old program into uncertainty, while business and religious leaders, mayors, governors, Democratic lawmakers, unions, civil liberties advocates and former Democratic President Barack Obama all condemned Trump’s move.
Attorney-General Jeff Sessions announced the move saying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is 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.
“I have a love for these people (DACA recipients), and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” Trump later told reporters at the White House, adding, “I think it’s going to work out very well.”
Since Trump took office in January, Congress has been unable to pass any major legislation, most notably failing on a healthcare overhaul, and lawmakers have been bitterly divided over immigration in the past.
“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America,” said Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives.
The Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, said a coalition of states planned to file suit in the coming days to defend DACA, and one advocacy group announced its own legal action.
Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg said the decision marked a sad day for the US.
“The decision to end DACA is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American Dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it,” Zuckerberg said.
Microsoft Corp president Brad Smith urged Congress to prioritise the humanitarian needs of these people above tax-cut legislation sought by Trump.