Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children
Trump rescinding DACA program
The Trump administration said Tuesday it was ending an Obama-era program allowing young people who came to the country illegally as children to live here free from fear of deportation.
"The program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded," Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a televised statement.
President Trump released a written statement that cast President Obama's creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as going beyond his constitutional responsibilities.
"There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will," Trump said.
DACA recipients are immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. They had passed background checks and paid a fee to get deferral from deportation and a work permit. Obama put the administrative program in place in 2012. Approximately 800,000 people are recipients under the program.
The president said Congress could take up DACA if it wished, but he made it clear that this should be done in the context of broader immigration reform that could include the building of a wall on the border and new curbs on legal immigration that have been offered by two GOP senators.
"Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first," Trump said.
"We must reform our green card system, which now favors low-skilled immigration and puts immense strain on U.S. taxpayers," Trump added. "We must base future immigration on merit - we want those coming into the country to be able to support themselves financially, to contribute to our economy, and to love our country and the values it stands for."
Trump also put his "America first" agenda at the forefront of any effort on immigration, saying government needed to take action to help American citizens as well as those brought to the country by their parents.
"As I've said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion - but through the lawful Democratic process - while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve," he said. "We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling and forgotten Americans.
"Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams too. Being in government means setting priorities. Our first and highest priority in advancing immigration reform must be to improve jobs, wages and security for American workers and their families."
Sessions said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be phased out. No new applications from people who hope to be DACA recipients will be taken after today.
While framed as a six-month phaseout, the new guidelines still allow for DACA enrollees to remain in the program and retain work permits well beyond that date, in some cases.
For those whose eligibility is set to expire within the next six months, DHS is accepting renewal applications until Oct. 5 - creating the potential for enrollees to remain in the program almost two years after the so-called phaseout.
Others will not have an opportunity to renew their enrollment. Anyone whose permit ends on March 6, 2018, or later will simply see their DACA benefits end at that time - unless they had previously applied for a renewal.
Sessions said the Department of Justice advised Trump and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program."
"This will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act - should it so choose. We firmly believe this is the responsible path," Sessions said.
In terms of enforcement, Trump said his administration would continue its focus on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays and repeal violators.
"I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity or are members of a gang," he said.
Trump earlier on Tuesday suggested that he wanted Congress to take action on the DACA program, tweeting that lawmakers should "get ready to do your job" on the issue.
It's unclear what the GOP Congress will do, however.
DACA has long divided Republicans, and GOP leaders will face pressure from some conservatives to let the program die.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a statement released shortly after Sessions's remarks said he hoped Congress could take action. He said Trump was right to rescind the Obama program, but that the recipients benefiting from it had done nothing wrong.
"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," Ryan said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized Trump's decision, saying it risked sending innocent young people out of the United States.
"President Trump's decision to eliminate DACA is the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border," McCain said in a statement.
"I strongly believe that children who were illegally brought into this country through no fault of their own should not be forced to return to a country they do not know."
The future of the program has been uncertain ever since the election of Trump, who ran on a platform promising a crackdown on illegal immigration and a promise to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Sessions and other administration officials had suggested that they believed the program would not survive a court challenge.
The decision comes the same day as a deadline imposed by Texas and nine other states, which threatened to challenge the program in court if Trump did not rescind it.
The end of the program has led to fear that those benefiting from it could be deported, and that their participation would make it easier for authorities to find them. Recipients had to renew their benefits every two years. As a result, the government has records on people in the program.
Some state officials had suggested they could mount a legal defense of DACA if the Department of Justice did not.