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Trump ends DACA program for undocumented youth

(AP photo)

PHOENIX — The Trump administration has put an end to an Obama-era program that granted temporary work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement Tuesday, just days after reports surfaced that President Donald Trump would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections. A six-month delay will allow Congress to decide whether it wants to write legislation to protect the so-called DREAMers.

He called the program an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch” but that the Trump administration was urging Congress to find another way to protect young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

“The policy was implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern,” Sessions said.

Nearly 800,000 young immigrants had been granted a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S. under the program created in 2012 by former President Barack Obama.

Trump said, “As president, my highest duty is to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America. At the same time, 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 [a] nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

At the press conference, Sessions did not take any questions from reporters. He has long been an opponent of DACA and reportedly helped persuade the president to end the program.

“The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we accept each year, and that means all cannot be accepted,” Sessions said.

Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security said new applications would be rejected but that “Renewals for people whose DACA benefits will expire between now and March 5, 2018, will be considered provided they are received until Oct 5, 2017.”

It was not immediately clear how the six-month delay would work in practice and what would happen to people who currently have work permits under the program, or whose permits expire during the six-month stretch. It was also unclear what would happen if Congress fails to pass legislation by the six-month guideline.

Obama posted a statement on the DACA cancellation to social media, that read, in part:

“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. 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.”

In the final days of his presidency, Obama said at his last press conference that it would “merit [his] speaking out” if the country’s core values were “at stake.”

Obama later clarified that those core values included “efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else. When they love this country, they are our kids, friends, and classmates, and are now entering into community colleges and in some places serving in our military.”

Congress now tasked with immigrants’ future

The decision to end DACA was expected to drive another rift into the Republican-led Congress, as politicians attempt to pass several much-needed bills, including government spending and an aid package for Harvey victims, after a monthlong recess.

Hourse before the announcement, the president tweeted:

House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the announcement he hoped that the House and Senate — with the president’s leadership — will find consensus on a permanent legislative solution to the issue.

He said it was important to ensure that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute “as a valued party of this great country.”

Last week Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station that DACA recipients are “kids who know no other country, who are brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in February that he was “very sympathetic” to DACA recipients and that he was “anxious to see what the president decides to do.”

But an immigration advocate told Politico on Monday that there was a “30-70 chance” that Congress could successfully pass a bill to make the program a law.

“I just don’t think we can make the mistake of assuming the opposition isn’t formidable, even if we have some conservative support,” the advocate said.

On Monday, the attorney generals from New York and Washington state threatened to sue the Trump administration if it ended DACA. It was unclear whether any lawsuits had been filed by Tuesday morning.

This comes after politicians and attorney generals from 10 states — but not Arizona — requested in a June letter that the Secretary of Homeland Security “phrase out the DACA program” by Tuesday.

With the Trump administration rescinding DACA, “the plaintiffs that successfully challenged DAPA and Expanded DACA will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit currently pending in the Southern District of Texas,” part of the letter read.

Trump administration rescinded DACA expansion in June

In 2014, Obama attempted to expand DACA under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, also known as DAPA.

The program would have expanded the temporary protections and work permit to undocumented immigrants for three years if they lived in the U.S. since 2010 and had kids who are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The program was immediately challenged in court by 26 states and was never officially put into effect. In 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4-4 tie, which left in place an appellate court ruling that blocked the plan. The Trump administration officially rescinded DAPA in June, but left DACA in place.

More than 200K recipients renewed program in 2017

Nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been protected from deportation and granted a two-year, temporary work permit that was subject to renewal under DACA.

The program was not a pathway to citizenship, did not give immigrants citizenship and did not give their parents citizenship. It also did not allow immigrants to qualify for federal aid to attend college or another form of secondary education.

To be eligible for DACA, recipients had to have been brought to the U.S. under the age of 16, were in school at the time they applied, were not convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors and did not otherwise “post a threat to national security or public safety,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

As of March 2017, USCIS has issued nearly 800,000 DACA applications. More than 200,000 undocumented immigrants renewed their benefits in the second quarter of fiscal year 2017, according to the latest data.

California, Texas and Illinois are the three states with the highest number of initial DACA recipients in the U.S. More than three-quarters of all DACA recipients — 78 percent of approved applications, both initial (618,342) and renewals (622,170) — come from Mexico, according to the Pew Research Center.

Arizona was the first state to oppose DACA. On Aug. 15 2012, the day that DACA went into effect, former state Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order to prohibit DACA recipients from receiving any state benefits, including driver’s licenses. The order was held in violation of the law by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014.

KTAR News’ Martha Maurer and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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