Trump administration rescinds DACA program — now it’s up to Congress

Colorado House Representative Dan Pabon leads a chain of hand holding with DREAMers during a press conference on the possible repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, Sept. 1, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Colorado House Representative Dan Pabon leads a chain of hand holding with DREAMers during a press conference on the possible repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, Sept. 1, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; undocumented; daca; dream act; immigration; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Colorado state Rep. Dan Pabon clasps hands with DREAMers during a press conference on Friday on the impending repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Citing the Constitution and the rule of law, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the impending end of the DACA program that allowed people who were brought here as children to work legally and avoid deportation.

“The policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress declined to act,” Sessions said of DACA, which was implemented in 2012 by President Barack Obama. “… The executive branch through DACA deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch refused to enact.”

Sessions declined to take questions after the announcement, including the pressing one of whether the personal information that recipients provided to the government in order to qualify will be used for purposes of enforcement and deportation.

At a press conference later in the day, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said DACA recipients would not be an enforcement priority, and that enforcement would focus on “criminals.” However, DACA recipients will be losing their work authorization as their status expires.

Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security would implement an “orderly, lawful wind-down” that would allow Congress to act if it chooses to.

Sessions said the decision was not meant in any way to “disrespect or demean” DACA recipients, who in many cases would be returning to countries they do not remember, but to uphold the rule of law within the United States. He blamed the DACA program for a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America on the nation’s southern borders — a surge that most analysts blame on gang violence in their home countries. He also blamed the program for depriving American citizens of jobs because DACA recipients have the ability to work legally in the United States.

“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Sessions said. “It is that simple. That would be an open borders policy, and the American people have rightfully rejected that.”

President Donald Trump promised to repeal DACA on the campaign trail, and he has telegraphed this move for weeks. The announcement puts the ball squarely in Congress’ court. If the premise is that the White House’s only objection to DACA was that it was done as an executive order rather than as a legislative act, it’s not even clear that Congress would need a veto-proof supermajority.

However, Sanders said that Trump would be more likely to sign legislation that includes broad immigration reform and funding for a border wall than stand-alone DACA legislation, which she called a “tweak” to one problem. The administration has expressed support for additional restrictions on legal immigration as well as increased enforcement against those who are here without authorization.

Colorado’s Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican whose district includes many immigrant communities, has expressed support for providing a path to legal status for DACA recipients. Over the weekend, he said it’s urgent that Congress pass the Bridge Act, which would provide three years of protection for DACA recipients while legislators work out a long-term solution. On Tuesday, Coffman filed a discharge petition to bring the bill to the floor.

The petition requires 218 signatures to reflect the will of the majority. It’s typically a parliamentarian tool of the minority party to get around obstruction by the leadership of the majority party.

“I see the discharge petition as a way to bring legislation to the floor should Republican leadership fail to allow a floor vote on a bill to protect these young people,” Coffman said in a statement.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who had previously hedged on supporting any specific legislation, came out as a cosponsor of the DREAM Act with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, his Democratic counterpart. This act would provide a path to legal status and citizenship for DACA recipients. The Denver Post first reported the decision.

“Children who came to this country without documentation, through no fault of their own, must have the opportunity to remain here lawfully,” Gardner said in a statement.

 

Gardner’s language stands in sharp contrast to Sessions’. The attorney general referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

“We are in this situation today because the program was created through executive action by the previous administration instead of through Congress,” Gardner said earlier in the day. “We now have the opportunity to fix this issue through the legislative process.”

Democratic legislators are broadly in favor of more protections for immigrants. One of the questions is whether Congress will find the political will to act to preserve DACA or whether the program will get stuck and die in the briar patch that immigration reform has represented for Congress. A lot will depend on where Republicans — who have mostly opposed the DACA program — shake out, as they control both houses of Congress.

The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the president for rescinding the program without a legislative fix.

“There is no humane way to end DACA before having a legislative fix in place,” ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley said in a press release. “Today’s decision to end the program is in response to a fake deadline and as part of a manufactured crisis. … The government and President Trump went back on their word, threw the lives and futures of 800,000 Dreamers and their families into disarray, and injected chaos and uncertainty into thousands of workplaces and communities across America.”

Who are the DACA recipients?

These are people who were brought to the United States without proper documentation or authorization when they were children and who grew up in this country. The majority of them came here before the age of 6, and many do not remember their countries of birth or speak the language well enough for professional employment.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gave people in this category the legal ability to work and protection from deportation if they could establish that they had completed or were enrolled in high school or the armed services and if they had no criminal record. DACA recipients generally are not eligible for citizenship or other legal status.

There are some 17,000 DACA recipients in Colorado alone, and they’re widely seen as the most sympathetic group of unauthorized immigrants in the United States.

Immigrant advocates and Democratic politicians were quick to condemn the order.

Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran called the decision “cruel and cynical.”

“President Trump has called the 800,000 Dreamers ‘really incredible kids’ and he publicly assured them that they could ‘rest easy.’ But now, in a cruel and cynical reversal that puts the president squarely on the wrong side of history, the administration has declared that it will end the DACA program,” she said in a press release.

“Most of all, this is an issue of basic humanity. Dreamers were brought here as children, grew up and went to school and built their lives here, and are Americans in every sense but their documentation. They are living — and contributing to — the American Dream. They should be allowed to stay, and I call on Congress to create a viable path for them to gain citizenship.”

Last week, Denver city officials expressed strong support for DACA recipients, some of whom work for the city. An executive order signed by Mayor Michael Hancock calls for the creation of a legal defense fund for immigrants at risk of deportation and support for families separated by detention and deportation.

The Meyer Law Office, an immigration-focused Denver firm, said it’s important that DACA recipients consult with an attorney to understand all their options, including whether they might qualify for additional legal protections. Attorney Hans Meyer said his office would be holding DACA-focused “Know Your Rights” sessions in the near future, and he said recipients whose status expires in the next six months — on or before March 5, 2018 — should make sure to file renewal paperwork before Oct. 5, 2017.

That is, don’t give up and don’t let your status lapse in this period of uncertainty.


THE CATCH-UP — HERE’S HOW WE GOT HERE: 

Gov. John Hickenlooper urges “common sense” on DACA as advocates mobilize (Friday)


After a decade of victories, Colorado’s DACA generation faces Trump with allies behind them (Thursday)

The papers beneath the mayor’s pen were the result of long months of negotiations. The question of just how far Denver should go in protecting undocumented immigrants had subjected the city to blasts from conservative critics, and at times it had divided the supporters in the room.

But even at this moment of realization, a larger threat loomed — one that nobody in city government can do much to stop.


DACA program will continue for now, but young immigrants in Denver now fear for their parents (Jun. 16)


Rep. Mike Coffman pushes to create protections for some undocumented immigrants (Jan. 13)


Denver’s DACA kids prepare for the fight of their lives (Jan. 10)

Seven young, undocumented immigrants spoke at length to Denverite as Inauguration Day approached.

Cheska Mae Perez found an open envelope in her family’s living room one day in 2014. The 16-year-old knew the logo well — it was a letter from the federal agency she’d been thinking about for years.

“I’m a very curious person. I snoop a lot,” she said. It was dated from two weeks earlier, so she knew her father had already seen it. “I opened it up when no one was there — I read it.”

And then she collapsed on the floor, weeping, the document still in her hands.


After Trump’s win, young immigrants have a fearful question: Will DACA survive? (Nov. 9, 2016)

“It’s a lot of fear. We’re receiving calls from different clients because they are scared their kids are going to be deported,” said Denver immigration attorney Belén Albuja, her voice heavy on the morning after the election.


June 15 is no ordinary day for undocumented immigrants (June 15, 2016)

Can you prove where you were on June 15, 2012?

This story has been updated throughout.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.