Trump rescinding DACA program, triggering immigration battle

U.S. President Donald Trump is eliminating protections for 800,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children, a highly controversial move that will deepen America’s fault lines over immigration and return the issue to the forefront of the country’s politics.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it is rescinding an Obama-era policy that allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people to receive renewable work permits and avoid deportation.

The U.S. government will no longer grant any new applications for protected status for such young people, rendering their future uncertain. The administration shifted responsibility for their predicament to Congress and said a wind-down of the program would unfold over the next six months.

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The Obama-era policy was “an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws,” said Attorney-General Jeff Sessions as he announced the decision on Tuesday. The administration “cannot defend this type of overreach.” Mr. Sessions added that the wind-down process will create “a time period for Congress to act – should it so choose.”

Video: DACA supporters rally against Trump’s ‘racist’ agenda(Reuters)

Mr. Trump, in a statement, echoed that message. “It is now time for Congress to act!” he said. Mr. Trump underlined that the work permits issued through the program would be allowed to expire gradually.

Tuesday’s announcement was the most dramatic move so far in Mr. Trump’s fight against illegal immigration and represents a victory for the nativist faction, including Mr. Sessions, within his administration. That group favours increasing deportations of unauthorized immigrants while also restricting legal immigration.

Undocumented young people who arrived in the country as children have received widespread sympathy from across the political spectrum. Business executives, university presidents, religious leaders and several prominent Republicans all urged Mr. Trump in recent days to keep the program in place. The young people are often referred to as “Dreamers,” a reference to a long-stalled piece of legislation – the Dream Act – aimed at resolving their plight.

Democrats and immigrant advocates reacted with fury to the administration’s announcement and vowed to fight back. “This is a defining moment for our country and a defining moment for this President,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. Mr. Trump’s decision is “nothing short of hypocrisy, cruelty and cowardice.”

Dreamers represent a fraction of the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was instituted in 2012 by former president Barack Obama after Congress repeatedly failed to enact legislation that would address the predicament of young people who had no legal status in the only home many of them had ever known.

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In the intervening five years, the program has transformed the lives of its recipients, allowing them to pursue university degrees, advance their careers, buy homes and travel abroad.

DACA “changed my life completely,” said Daichi Tanaka, 20, a student at Harvard University who arrived in the United States at the age of six from Japan. “I went from not knowing if I could get a job to thinking about being an attorney, an activist, a journalist, an organizer.” As a DACA recipient, Mr. Tanaka was able to get a driver’s license, begin accumulating a credit score and plan a trip outside the country. “Just knowing that I am not trapped is a huge thing,” he said.

“It was hard for me to watch,” Mr. Tanaka said of Mr. Sessions’s announcement on Tuesday to rescind DACA. “These are real lives at stake here.”

The roughly 800,000 DACA recipients will maintain their work visas until they expire, but they will no longer be able to renew them starting next month. They will also lose the ability to apply for permission to leave the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Unless Congress enacts a legislative fix, DACA recipients will be forced back into their prior precarious state. A Republican member of Congress from Colorado said he would seek to introduce a measure this week that would give Dreamers temporary legal status for three years, but it is unclear if that can pass either the House or the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.

Moderate Republicans are torn between demonstrating compassion for young people who had no say in how they entered the United States and acceding to voters who insist that Dreamers are law-breakers and should be deported.

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With Tuesday’s announcement, Mr. Trump fulfilled the pledge he made during the presidential campaign to end DACA. But since taking office in January, Mr. Trump had voiced sympathy with the Dreamers and promised to treat them “with heart.” He appears to have acted on Tuesday in response to a threat issued in June by 10 state attorneys-general: The officials said they would sue the government over DACA if the program was not eliminated by Sept. 5.

Mr. Trump’s base was “promised this action,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington. “The President has boxed himself in – and allowed many of his allies to box him in – on this issue.”

The furor over the decision to end DACA is just beginning. The program was instituted after years of sustained activism by Dreamers who dared to tell their stories in public for the first time, even if it meant risking deportation. In the years since, they have gained allies in their cause and will represent a potent and uncomfortable source of pressure on Republicans and Mr. Trump. Protests were scheduled across the United States on Tuesday, including in front of Trump Tower in New York.

Some Republican lawmakers have floated the idea of using the Dreamers as a bargaining chip. Such a strategy might involve a permanent legislative fix for the Dreamers, but only in exchange for Democratic support for building a border wall or other security measures.

Meanwhile, DACA recipients face an uncertain future. “I’m fully aware of the political game that’s being played with my life,” said Mr. Tanaka, the undocumented university student. “It’s one thing to be a Harvard student and strive for your dreams, but it’s another to know it can be taken away from you at any moment.”


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