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Trump phases out protection for childhood immigrants

President Donald Trump (AP File Photo/Evan Vucci)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday announced the end of a program that allowed children brought to live in the U.S. illegally by their parents a chance to stay without fear of deportation – unless Congress passes legislation within six months to continue the program.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – program on Tuesday morning, ending days of speculation about the move. Former President Barack Obama established the program to provide temporary legal status for children brought unlawfully to the United States. The federal government has since processed almost 800,000 requests. DACA recipients are granted a renewable, two-year period of immunity from deportation, along with access to work permits.

In making his announcement, Sessions focused on the legal issues surrounding the program.

“This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens,” Sessions said. “In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.

“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

Sessions also said DACA “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens,” an assertion that backers of the program disputed.

The White House issued a statement from Trump calling on Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said. “But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.” Late Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he would “revisit” his decision if Congress doesn’t act within six months.

New Mexico’s congressional Democrats swiftly denounced the decision to rescind DACA, while Rep. Steve Pearce, the delegation’s lone Republican, backed the move.

Those with DACA permits whose renewals are set to expire between now and March 5, 2018, will be able to reapply – so long as their applications are submitted by Oct. 5, 2017 – a month from Tuesday. No permits will be revoked before their existing expiration dates, and applications already in the pipeline will be processed, Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters on Tuesday.

Trump’s announcement came the same day as a deadline set by a group of Republican state officials who said they would challenge DACA in court unless the Trump administration rescinded the program. Administration officials argued the program might not hold up in court – and said that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would throw the program into far more chaos than the move they chose. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who criticized the White House decision, also said he was considering legal action.

Obama weighed in with a Facebook post Tuesday that called the White House decision “cruel,” and wondered about the future of those who might be deported from the only country they have ever known.

“To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama wrote. “Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question.”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an Albuquerque Democrat who is chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and who is running for governor of New Mexico in 2018, blasted the president’s decision as “an indefensible and unjust act of cruelty.” Between 7,000 and 8,000 young people in New Mexico are beneficiaries of the program, according to federal data.

“In every way, DACA has made our nation stronger and kept alive the American dream for 800,000 aspiring Americans,” Lujan Grisham said. “Dreamers lives are not bargaining chips and should not be used as pawns in furthering the president’s anti-immigrant agenda. They are children who are American in every way, their contributions are real, and they and their futures should be treated with the dignity to which every person is entitled.

“Any attempt to end DACA, whether it is tomorrow or in six months, will devastate lives, ruin families and disrupt businesses and local economies.”

Pearce, who is also running for New Mexico governor in 2018, said the DACA program was a temporary, unsustainable solution to the question of how to deal with the children of illegal immigrants. Pearce described DACA as a “harmful and damaging” program that “fails to provide certainty and leaves millions with an illusion of hope.”

“It is only a temporary fix for millions of young adults who have only ever known the United States as home,” Pearce said. “I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress for fairness, justice, and family unity, and will fight for a permanent change for Dreamers that ensures both current and future generations do not face the same challenges and burdens.”

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin also praised the move while expressing hope that Congress can agree on comprehensive immigration reform, a goal that has eluded the legislative branch for more than a decade.

“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” he said.

Colorado’s U.S. senators – Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Michael Booker, a Democrat – on Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow the so-called Dreamers to stay in the U.S. legally. Under the legislative proposal, immigrants who illegally came to the U.S. before they turned 18 could qualify for legal residence – and eventually citizenship – if they met certain conditions. Those include a high school diploma or an equivalent GED, and the absence of a felony record.

The president’s decision to end the DACA program and call for a long-term congressional solution comes at a time when the national legislative body has an unusually full plate of pressing issues, including a Hurricane Harvey relief bill, a debt ceiling deadline and the need for a spending bill to keep government operating. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, suggested that the White House should submit a plan to Congress that Trump would support.

“Congress now has less than six months to deal with this the right way, through the legislative process,” Rubio said. “We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president won’t sign.”

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