Trump scraps ‘Dreamers’ programme protecting immigrants

Decision shifts fate of 800,000 people who arrived illegally in US as children to Congress

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he has 'great heart' for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children and he wants Congress to produce a legislative solution for them. Video: The White House


US president Donald Trump on Tuesday scrapped a programme that protects from deportation almost 800,000 young men and women who were brought into the United States illegally as children, ordering a phased-out dismantling that gives a gridlocked Congress six months to decide the immigrants’ fate.

Mr Trump’s action, announced by attorney general Jeff Sessions, rescinds a programme called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca). The administration presented the move as necessary to show respect for the country’s immigration laws, and said nobody covered by the programme would be affected before March 5th.

The programme, created by former president Barack Obama, is supported by Democrats and many business leaders, and hundreds of people protested outside the White House over Tuesday’s announcement.

“President Trump’s decision to end Daca is a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America,” said Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Mr Sessions said the action does not mean the Daca recipients are “bad people”. “To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple. That would be an open-border policy and the American people have rightly rejected that,” Mr Sessions said.

In a statement issued by the White House, Mr Trump said, “I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognise that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

The move to end Daca marked the latest action by Mr Trump that is sure to alienate Hispanic Americans, a growing segment of the US population and an increasingly important voting bloc. Most of the immigrants protected by Daca, dubbed “Dreamers”, came from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Kicked to Congress

Mr Trump’s order, deferring the actual end of the programme, effectively kicks responsibility for the fate of the Dreamers to his fellow Republicans who control Congress. But Congress has been unable since the president took office in January to pass any major legislation and has been bitterly divided over immigration in the past. Mr Obama bypassed Congress and created Daca through an executive order in 2012.

Mr Sessions said the Trump administration concluded that Mr Obama exceeded his authority in setting up the programme, which has long been the target of conservative hard-liners on the issue of immigration.

Mr Obama criticised the decision to end the programme as “cruel” and “wrong”.

“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally,” Mr Obama said in a post on Facebook. “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,” he wrote.

Mr Trump appeared determined to pressure US lawmakers to act. “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” the president wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning before the policy announcement was made.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions announces that the Trump administration is ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme, in Washington, DC. Photograph: by Alex Wong/Getty Images
US attorney general Jeff Sessions announces that the Trump administration is ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme, in Washington, DC. Photograph: by Alex Wong/Getty Images

There were some signs that Congress might be willing to act, with a number of senior Republican lawmakers coming forward to express an interest in protecting the Dreamers.

The president’s decision may have been forced by nine Republican state attorneys general, led by Texas, who had threatened a legal challenge in federal court if Mr Trump did not act to end Daca. A number of Democratic state attorneys general have threatened legal action to defend the programme.

Long-term solution

House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan called on lawmakers to find a long-term solution for the young people affected by the reversal of the programme.

“At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the only country they know. Their status is one of many immigration issues, such as border security and interior enforcement, which Congress has failed to adequately address over the years,” Mr Ryan said.

Mr Trump made a crackdown on illegal immigrants a centrepiece of his 2016 election campaign and his administration has stepped up immigration arrests. But business leaders say immigrants make important economic contributions and that ending the Daca programme would hit economic growth and tax revenue.

Mr Trump left the Daca announcement to Mr Sessions, with whom the president has had tensions arising from the investigation into potential collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

“We are people of compassion and we are people of law. But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration law,” Mr Sessions said.