WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced he is terminating the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, but is leaving Congress with a six-month wind-down period to take up the fate of those brought to the United States illegally as children.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, representing the administration as the face of the decision to dismantle DACA, at a news conference said former President Barack Obama had practiced “unilateral executive amnesty” and a “circumvention of immigration laws” with his 2012 executive order.
Trump followed up with a statement that urged a replacement through legislation.
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” he said. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
But by Tuesday night, Trump appeared less definitive about ending DACA, tweeting: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
DACA has granted deportation reprieve and work authorization to about 800,000 young people, including 42,000 New Yorkers. Beneficiaries call themselves Dreamers after a proposed law that could provide them legal status.
Work permit applications will no longer be accepted, though applications and renewal requests already in the pipeline will be processed and existing permits won’t begin expiring for six months, Trump said.
Obama responded in a statement that called the demise of DACA “self-defeating” and “cruel” because it may stop Dreamers from starting new businesses, serving in the military or otherwise contributing and may force their return to a country they may not know or remember.
“Ultimately, this is about basic decency,” the former president said. “This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated.”
Obama stressed it is now lawmakers’ responsibility to “protect these young people and our future.”
Trump later Tuesday in brief remarks to reporters echoed remarks he made in February about showing “great heart” in dealing with DACA.
“I have a great heart for these folks,” he said. “I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
On Capitol Hill, representatives of both parties signaled a readiness to tackle the long-proposed Dream Act offering legal status to those who had qualified for DACA — including young people enrolled in U.S. colleges or enlisted in the U.S. military — as well as larger-scale immigration law reform.
In a show of bipartisanship, Senate Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on their colleagues to take up the Dream Act this month.
“From a Republican Party point of view, this is a defining moment,” Graham said. “Starting with the Dream Act kids, I think, is a good down payment on what will eventually be a comprehensive solution to a broken immigration system.”
Though Trump called on Congress to act, Graham in turn urged the president to do his part by working the phones, finding consensus and sending the message as the GOP leader, “We are the party of constitutional process, that we believe in doing it right. But ‘right’ means taking care of these kids.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had “wrestled” with ending DACA.
She said DACA enrollees are not deportation targets.
“DACA recipients, whose average age is in their 20s, were not an enforcement priority before and they certainly won’t become a priority now,” Sanders said. “The priorities remain the same: criminals, security threats and those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sharply criticized Trump’s order but made no immediate proposal for a replacement.
“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,” he said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) urged passage of the Dream Act
, saying Trump “is needlessly targeting children who know no other country as home than America. This does not make our communities safer or our economy stronger.”