US President Donald Trump on Tuesday rescinded an Obama-era program that protects from deportation immigrants brought illegally into the country as children, sparking a fresh controversy.
The action, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sought an “orderly, lawful wind-down” of the program, with implementation delayed until March and giving the Congress six months to decide the fate of almost 800,000 young people, Reuters reports.
Announcing the move, Sessions called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program an unconstitutional overreach by Obama.
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 the DACA program as an “amnesty-first approach” toward illegal immigrants and pressed his nationalist “America First” message.
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 is 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 Trumps spokeswoman offered only a broad outline, Reuters noted.
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.
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.
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.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, also denounced Trump’s move.
“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,” she said.
The Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, said a coalition of states plans to file a lawsuit in the coming days to defend DACA.
“This is a sad day for our country,” added Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
“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.”
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