U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced his decision to end a policy that shielded from deportation an estimated 800,000 young immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children.
The Trump administration plans to phase out the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and leave its fate up to lawmakers, who will have six months to agree on a fix before some immigrants will see their legal status expire.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the decision during a press conference in Washington, D.C., said the DACA program – which was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 – was unconstitutional because it bypassed the U.S. Congress.
“The executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions,” Sessions said. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”
The DACA program was available for certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children and did not pose a risk to national security or public safety. Those who were approved – about 800,000 people – were exempt from deportation hearings and received a renewable two-year work authorization, among other benefits.
Trump defended his decision in a written statement, saying it was his duty as president to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States. “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.”
The president explained that existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration and applications which were submitted before Tuesday will continue to be processed as normal. People whose work permits are ending between now and March 5 will be allowed to apply for a two-year renewal until October 5.
“In effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act,” Trump said in the statement. He added that his government’s deportation priorities were unchanged and will continue to focus on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators.
Trump’s decision was met with mixed responses, with some welcoming the move and others condemning it, resulting in protests in several cities.
Former President Barack Obama, whose administration implemented DACA, called Trump’s decision “cruel” and “wrong.” He explained that Trump’s decision to end amnesty will impact young people who grew up in the United States and who may not even know their country of origin and its language.
“Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us,” Obama said in a statement.
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