WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Trump administration was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA, authorized in 2012 by an executive order by former President Barack Obama.
Sessions said that acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke would conduct an “orderly wind-down” of the program, which has provided temporary legal status for as many as 800,000 “mostly adult illegal aliens.” Administration officials said that no current participants in the program, all of whom were brought to the U.S. as children, would be affected before March 5.
Sessions stated his belief that a lawsuit threatened by attorneys general from 10 states over the program was likely to prevail because the executive branch of the federal government under Obama “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.”
President Donald Trump had vacillated on his promise to end DACA on day one of his presidency — leading some DACA supporters to hope the policy would remain on the books. Trump tweeted later Tuesday that Congress had six months to legalize the program, and if lawmakers are unsuccessful, the president “will revisit this issue!”
Threat by state attorneys general
But DACA opponents were outraged at Trump’s failure to act. In June, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, leader of a group that successfully blocked an Obama administration 2014 order to expand the protection to DACA participants’ family members, warned Sessions that he and other attorneys general would sue if the administration did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5.
The gambit worked. In a written statement, Trump explained, “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 nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
Trump stated that it is not his job to write laws as he tossed the hot potato back to Congress, which has voted on but never passed various versions of the DREAM Act, which would establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Earlier in the day, Trump had tweeted, “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!”
A Department of Justice press packet included testimony from George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, an Obama voter who agreed with many of the goals of the 2012 executive order creating DACA. But he found the order itself violated constitutional principles, testifying that Obama “has crossed the constitutional law between discretionary enforcement and defiance of federal law.”
Details of the ‘wind-down’
While Sessions did not get into specifics, the Trump statement explained how the wind-down will work. The government will not accept new applications, but applications in the pipeline will be processed, including renewals for DACA recipients “facing near-term expiration. This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out. Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”
Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval expressed support for the state’s DACA participants in a statement Tuesday morning, saying, “They are Nevadans.”
“These are individuals who were brought here as children and this is the country they know and love because it’s their home,” he said. “While the state has taken many actions to embrace and ensure equal opportunities for DACA recipients, a solution requires congressional action.”
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., called the move “a disastrous mistake” that will hurt the state’s economy.
“Since 2012, DACA has helped more than 13,000 DREAMers in the state go to school, build careers, and strengthen our community. Now they will be forced into the shadows,” she said, using a term commonly used to describe DACA participants.
Roy Beck, president of the anti-DACA organization NumbersUSA, applauded Trump for keeping his campaign promise.
“Trump has delivered a wonderful Labor Day present to unemployed American millennials by ordering the end of former President Obama’s unconstitutional issuing of work permits under the DACA amnesty.” Beck than called on Congress to enact smart reform.
Some Republican support
Prospects for a congressional replacement for DACA were unclear.
There is some appetite for legislation among Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has partnered with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to seek a “fair solution”
“I have always believed DACA was presidential overreach,” he said Tuesday in a statement. “However, I equally understand the plight of the DREAM Act kids who – for all practical purposes – know no country other than America.”
But prospects for relief for the young immigrants may be complicated by hard-core pro-enforcement lawmakers seeking a broader immigration package.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., issued a statement suggesting that Congress could “mitigate” the consequences of extending DACA “by stopping the chain migration that hurts the working class and by strengthening the enforcement of our immigration laws.” He said a bill he introduced that would limit the amount of low-skilled immigrants and strengthen enforcement “should be the starting point of our discussions.”
Asked if Trump would sign or veto a stand-alone continuation of DACA without any sops to the right, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded that Trump is looking for “responsible immigration reform. We can’t just have one tweet to the immigration system; we need really big fixes and big reform in this process. And we’ve laid out the principles that we feel are important in that.”
Obama weighs in
Obama released a statement on Facebook in which he lamented that Congress never gave him a DREAM Act bill. “And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation … so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country.”
Again, Obama argued that his executive order was “based on the well-established principle of prosecutorial discretion.”
Paxton, the Texas attorney general, took issue with that claim. “The Obama-era program went far beyond the executive branch’s legitimate authority,” he wrote. “Had former President Obama’s unilateral order on DACA been left intact, it would have set a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to bypass Congress and change immigration laws.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. Reuters contributed to this report.