White House to rescind DACA program protecting young immigrants

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Trump administration has decided to rescind the program that shields from deportation some immigrants who arrived illegally as children, throwing the problem to Congress.

Barack Obama calls move 'cruel,' as Trump throws responsibility for legislative remedy to Congress

Demonstrators march in response to the Trump administration's announcement on Tuesday that it's ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Trump administration has decided to rescind the program that shields from deportation some immigrants who arrived illegally as children, throwing the problem to Congress.

Sessions called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program an "unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch."

Sessions told reporters: "I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded."

He said the Trump administration is urging Congress to find an alternate way to protect young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had spoken to congressional leaders about immigration reform and is confident that Congress will take action to deal with the status of illegal immigrants who have grown up in the United States,.

"We have confidence that Congress is going to step up and do their job," Sanders told a briefing shortly after the administration scrapped a program that protected from deportation some 800,000 young people who grew up in the United States.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement on the plan to end the DACA program. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

"This is something that needs to be fixed legislatively, and we have confidence that they're going to do that," Sanders said, adding that President Donald Trump was willing to work with lawmakers on immigration reform, which she said should include several "big fixes," not just one tweak to the system.

How it will work

The Trump administration outlined on Tuesday how it will dismantle a program that shielded from deportation undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and allowed them to work in the country.

Acting secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke issued a memo that rescinded a 2012 DHS memo that established the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The DHS will provide a limited window for some DACA recipients whose work permits expire before March 5, 2018, to apply to renew those permits. Such individuals must apply for renewal before Oct. 5, administration officials said in a briefing call with reporters.

Former DACA recipients whose work permits expire will be considered to be in the U.S. without permission and will be eligible for removal, but they will be a low priority for immigration enforcement, the officials said.

— Reuters

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump told reporters he is counting on Congress to find a solution for those affected by DACA. 

"I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them," Trump said.

"I can tell you in speaking to members of Congress they want to be able to do something and do it right and really we have no choice," Trump told reporters.

Yet at the same time, the White House distributed talking points to members of Congress that included a dark warning: "The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States."

Although Trump's announcement had been anticipated in recent days, it still left young people covered by the DACA program reeling.

"You just feel like you are empty," said a sobbing Paola Martinez, 23, who came to the U.S. from Colombia and recently graduated with a civil engineering degree from Florida International University

"I honestly can't even process it right now," said Karen Marin, an immigrant from Mexico, who was in a physics class at Bronx Community College when the news broke. "I'm still trying to get myself together."

6-month delay

According to two people familiar with Trump's decision, the decision to delay by six months the termination of the DACA program would give Congress time to act. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details publicly.

But that plan also hands a political hot potato to congressional Republicans, who have a long history of failing to act on immigration because of divisions in the party.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida tweeted: "After teasing #Dreamers for months with talk of his 'great heart,' @POTUS slams door on them. Some 'heart'."

Although often used interchangeably, the initiative known as the Dreamers program is not the same as DACA. The former is named for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that has been introduced numerous times over the past 16 years but has failed to pass. It aims to provide conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who enrol in college or the military.

DACA was introduced by former U.S. president Barack Obama in 2012 and defers by two years the deportation of people younger than 31 (as of June 15, 2012) who came to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 and meet certain conditions. The deferral can be renewed after two years if the conditions continue to be met, and successful applicants are also eligible for a work permit.

'Republican suicide'

Despite campaigning as an immigration hardliner, Trump has said he is sympathetic to the plight of the immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and in some cases have no memories of the countries they were born in.

But such an approach — essentially kicking the can down the road and letting Congress deal with it — is fraught with uncertainty and political perils that amount, according to one vocal opponent, to "Republican suicide."

Still other Republicans say they are ready to take on a topic that has proven a non-starter and career-breaker for decades.


It also remains unclear exactly how a six-month delay would work in practice, including whether the government would continue to process applications under the program, which has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the country in the form of two-year, renewable permits.

The Obama administration created the DACA program as a stopgap, as it pushed unsuccessfully for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress. Many Republicans say they opposed the program on the grounds that it was executive overreach.

Among the reactions to the announcement by Sessions:

  • Former president Barack Obama, posting to his Facebook page, called the move cruel and self-defeating.
  • Javier Palomarez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that also announced his resignation from Trump's diversity council: "Let's lay the truth bare: President Trump has knowingly deceived the American people over the past seven months about his intentions to protect the innocent young men and women of the DACA program.… Now they will be awake at night wondering whether tomorrow will be their last day on American soil."

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan said the heart of the issue is "young people who came to this country through no fault of their own." He said it is his hope that the House and Senate — with the president's leadership — will find consensus on a permanent legislative solution to the issue.
  • House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the decision to end the program "a deeply shameful act of political cowardice."

  • Microsoft president Brad Smith expressed deep disappointment at the decision. "We need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill," he said in a statement. "Urgent DACA legislation is both an economic imperative and a humanitarian necessity."

  • Trump himself followed up the Sessions announcement by saying in a statement he is "not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act."

House uncertainty

Ryan and a handful of other Republicans urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA to give lawmakers time to come up with a legislative fix.

But Congress has repeatedly tried — and failed — to come together on immigration overhaul legislation, and it remains uncertain whether the House would succeed in passing anything on the divisive topic.

One bill addressing the issue that has received the most attention, introduced by senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, would grant permanent legal status to more than one million young people who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 18, passed security checks and met other criteria, including enrolling in college, joining the military or finding jobs.

Kathia Ramirez, right, holds her son Rowen Salinas as her husband, Randy Salinas, holds their daughter Fridah during a protest in favour of DACA on Tuesday in Pharr, Texas. Ramirez, 24, was brought to the U.S. when she was seven. Her husband and children are all U.S. citizens. (Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Associated Press)

It's unclear, however, whether the president would throw his support behind that or any other existing legislation. He could encourage the writing of a new bill — tied, perhaps, to funding for his promised border wall or other concessions like a reduction in legal immigration levels.

But it's unclear how much political capital the president would want to put on the line given his base's strong opposition to illegal immigration, his campaign rhetoric blasting DACA as illegal "amnesty" and his reluctance to campaign hard for other priorities, like health-care overhaul.

Graham said in a statement Monday that he would support the president if he decided ultimately to go through with the plan as outlined.

"I have always believed DACA was a presidential overreach. However, I equally understand the plight of the Dream Act kids who — for all practical purposes — know no country other than America," Graham said in a statement.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News