U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the government is ending a program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, calling the Obama administration program “an unconstitutional exercise of authority.” (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Photo: Susan Walsh
Photo: Susan Walsh

Trump administration rescinds DACA program

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced it is rescinding an Obama-era program that is shielding nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation nationwide, giving Congress six months to tackle the thorny issue through legislation.

Drawing a mixture of praise and condemnation, the move will have a substantial impact in Georgia. As of March, 24,135 people in the state have been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation and work permits through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

In announcing the end of DACA, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the program an unconstitutional “overreach” by the Obama administration. Sessions acted after attorneys general from 10 states threatened to sue to stop DACA unless the president took action to phase it out by Tuesday.

“The executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions,” Sessions said without taking questions from reporters at a news conference in Washington. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

Former President Barack Obama defended DACA in a statement released Tuesday, saying his administration created the program “based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.”

The program applies to young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were children when they brought to this country illegally by their parents.

“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama said. “It is self-defeating — because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?”

A pair of civil and immigrant rights groups filed papers Tuesday in a federal court in New York City seeking to block the Trump administration’s actions. Make the Road New York and the National Immigration Law Center said canceling DACA would violate federal law and equal protection rights.

President Donald Trump campaigned on getting tough on illegal immigration and ending DACA. But he softened his tone about the program after he took office in January, calling DACA recipients “absolutely incredible kids” and saying they shouldn’t worry. Trump did not appear with Sessions during his announcement Tuesday. Instead, he issued a statement, saying DACA has prompted waves of Central American children and their parents to illegally cross the southwest border.

But many Central Americans who have crossed the border in recent years said they came here fleeing violence and deprivation in their native countries. Once at the border, many gave themselves up to Border Patrol authorities, seeking their protection.

Trump added his administration’s immigration enforcement priorities will not change now that it is rescinding DACA.

“We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators,” he said. “I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”

Started in 2012, DACA grants renewable two-year work permits and deportation deferrals to immigrants who were brought here before they turned 16, who are attending school here and who have no felony convictions.

The government will not revoke DACA benefits for those who have them now, Trump administration officials told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. But new DACA applications filed after Tuesday will be rejected. The government, however, will consider renewal applications received by Tuesday as well as requests from current DACA recipients whose benefits will expire by March 5 of next year, provided those applications are received by Oct. 5 of this year.

The program will be phased out. From August through December of this year, 201,678 people are scheduled to see their DACA benefits expire. Of them, 55,258 have pending requests for renewals. Next year, 275,344 people will have their DACA status expire. And of them, 7,271 have submitted requests for renewal. In 2019, the DACA benefits for 321,920 people will run out. Of them, eight have asked for renewals.

Many DACA recipients are now wondering how they will support themselves without driver’s licenses and permission to work. Raymond Partolan, a DACA recipient from Atlanta, and his parents legally came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was an infant, but they overstayed their visas. He is now working as an immigration paralegal.

“I’m absolutely outraged and dismayed at the Trump administration’s decision to essentially end the DACA program,” Partolan said Tuesday as he headed to a demonstration outside Trump Tower in New York City. “It strikes fear into the heart of our communities. Now our fates are once again in the hands of Congress.”

J.D. Van Brink of Acworth, the chairman of Georgia Tea Party Inc., supports Trump’s decision.

“It is not up to the executive branch to pass laws. It is absolutely up to the legislative branch,” he said. “And in that regard what the Obama administration did I believe was unconstitutional. I believe the courts would have upheld that view.”

Jessica Colotl, a DACA recipient from Norcross whose 2010 arrest in Georgia added to the national debate over illegal immigration, said she will continue lobbying Congress for protections for Dreamers. DACA has allowed her to get a driver’s license and to work as a paralegal.

“DACA represents a way of life,” she said. “And taking it away basically will force people back into the shadows. And we are not ready. We are not going to let that happen.”

A group of DACA recipients is now suing for the right to pay in-state tuition at Georgia universities. Now pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the case remains valid because the DACA program is not immediately going away, said Charles Kuck, the immigration attorney who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Agnes Scott College President Elizabeth Kiss said a “handful” of DACA students from six nations attend her campus in Decatur. Kiss said she’ll contact lawmakers to advocate for Dreamers.

“They’re so committed to the American Dream, and for America to turn its back on these bright, young students, it’s disappointing,” she said.

Emory University officials could not immediately say how many DACA students they have enrolled. Emory President Claire Sterk said the Trump administration’s decision “threatens to rob our academic community of some of our brightest minds on campus.”

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Staff writers Tamar Hallerman and Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.