President Donald J. Trump’s decision to rescind DACA Tuesday drew swift and scathing criticism from various higher education leaders, advocates for immigrants and lawmakers on Capitol Hill — but many remained hopeful that Congress would act to achieve a permanent solution for Dreamers.
John B. King, president and CEO of The Education Trust, called President Trump’s decision “irresponsible and immoral,” citing DACA’s importance in helping students attain a higher education “so they can build a better future for themselves, their families and the country they love.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., called the decision “morally bankrupt” and ignorant of “what makes America great in the first place and the very people who contribute to that greatness.”
Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland at College Park, called the decision “antithetical” to the core values and missions of his institution and higher education in general.
“It penalizes law-abiding students who came to this country as infants or children and want to be contributing members of our society by studying, working, or serving in the military,” Loh said. “Ending legal protection for these young people, before enacting a permanent legislative solution, would cause turmoil in their lives and contradicts our bedrock values as an immigrant nation.”
Many indicated that they had a hard time reconciling President Trump’s decision to phase out DACA — an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — with his professed “love” for Dreamers, or those undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and searching for permanent legal status.
“Despite many of the terrible immigration policies this Administration has put forward, I have always held out the hope that President Trump would keep his word and ‘take care’ of the Dreamers,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) said Tuesday. “After all, the President told America, ‘we love the Dreamers.’”
But Durbin said Trump’s decision to end DACA was “cold, harsh, threatening, and showed little respect, let alone love, for these Dreamers.”
Others criticized the president for punting the issue to Congress, where its future is uncertain.
“After telling Dreamers that he had a ‘great heart’ for them and that they could ‘rest easy,’ he hypocritically has decided to terminate the DACA program and leave the fate of the nearly 800,000 young immigrants and their families in the hands of a dysfunctional Congress,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director for the National Immigration Law Center.
“We all must act and call on Congress to swiftly enact a bipartisan solution and enact the bipartisan Dream Act,” Hincapié said.
Durbin agreed on the need for Congress to act swiftly to achieve a permanent solution to replace DACA — an Obama-era program meant to give undocumented young people brought here illegally as children relief from deportation and the ability to work. The policy has been criticized by Republicans as unconstitutional. President Trump campaigned in part on a promise to end the program on the basis of it being unconstitutional. Tuesday was also the deadline that several Republican attorneys general had given Trump to end the program or face a lawsuit on its constitutionality.
President Barack Obama himself described it as a “stop gap measure” when he implemented in 2012 it via executive order amid pressure from advocates for Dreamers during an election year. Obama also urged Congress at the time to act to achieve a permanent solution.
“Starting this countdown clock will require Congress to act fast to stop rolling mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people — students, teachers, doctors, engineers, first responders, service members, and more,” Durbin said. “Families will be torn apart and America will lose many of our best and brightest unless Republicans join with Democrats to right this wrong immediately.”
Durbin touted a bipartisan DREAM Act that he and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), introduced earlier this year.
President Trump and his administration also stressed the need for Congress to act and said that was one of the reasons DACA is being phased out in six months. Among other things, the new DACA policy means no new DACA applications will be accepted and renewal applications for DACA status will not be accepted after March 5. But Trump administration officials rejected the notion that Dreamers will now be the subject of mass deportations.
“DACA recipients, whose average age is in their 20s, were not an enforcement priority before, and they certainly won’t become a priority now,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “The priorities remain the same: criminals, security threats, and those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws.”
Sanders also said there’s a misconception that DACA primarily serves as a “shield from deportation.”
“This is misleading,” Sanders said. “DACA grants work authorization to nearly 800,000 individuals who are not legally authorized to work.”
President Trump also expressed hope that Congress would achieve a permanent solution for Dreamers.
“I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” Trump told reporters during a brief Q&A Tuesday.
“And I can tell you, speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right,” Trump said. “And really we have no choice, we have to be able to do something, and I think it’s going to work out very well. And long-term it’s going to be the right solution.”
Advocates for Dreamers were guarded about the prospects for a permanent solution and loathe to give President Trump any credit for a permanent solution if one is ultimately achieved.
Hincapié, for instance, rejected the notion that it’s President Trump who is creating pressure for Congress to act.
“I say actually the political pressure was created with the election of President Trump,” Hincapié said. “There is an awakening happening in this country at this moment where people are recognizing that the fight is not about any one of our communities.
“It’s not about Blacks. It’s not about trans. It’s not about just women. It’s about all of us,” Hincapié said, arguing that the DACA rescission is just “one of many, many attacks on justice and equality and freedom in this country.
“And that’s what’s at stake and that’s why the political pressure is being built,” Hincapié said.
As for whether President Trump will be able to sign a bill such as the bipartisan Dream act, Hincapié said “we’ll wait and see.”
“Many of us will be happy to see that day but I think for now this is not Trump creating this opportunity,” Hincapié said. “This is really Americans standing on the side of justice.”
Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration at the Center for American Progress, said even though a permanent policy solution from Congress is “the right thing to do” for Dreamers and the country as a whole, that President Trump is going about it the wrong way.
“Congress can any day step forward and take action,” Jawetz said. “If they want to advance a policy agenda here, they could push forward with it.
But he added, “The idea that they have to start that conversation by making hundreds of thousands of families live in terror in order to do that just misses the boat entirely.”
Advocates for Dreamers said they hope to get a “clean bill” for Dreamers passed through Congress without it being used as a bargaining chip for other things, such as President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“This Administration cannot keep toying with my life and the lives of 800,000 others,” said Maria Praeli, a DACA recipient and policy associate at FWD.us.
“We need a clean, bipartisan Dream Act immediately — my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others depends on it.”
But Sanders — the White House press secretary — cast doubt on the likelihood of that scenario.
“The President wants to see responsible immigration reform, and he wants that to be part of it,” Sanders said of legislation for Dreamers. “But again, we can’t take just a one-piece fix. We’ve got to do an overall immigration reform that’s responsible and, frankly, that’s lawful. And that’s what the President wants to see Congress do.”
Asked what the priorities would be for a comprehensive reform package, Sanders said it would also include, among other things, border control and improved vetting and immigration security.
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.