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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Trump shuts down DACA programme that protected one million illegal immigrant children

The president has given the Republican-controlled Congress six months to resolve issues arising from the end of Obama act

Demonstrators block roads near the White House to protest President Donald Trump's plan to repeal DACA in Washington
Demonstrators block roads near the White House to protest President Donald Trump's plan to repeal DACA in Washington

The White House was plunged into fresh controversy on Tuesday when president Donald Trump confirmed that he was bringing to a close a program instituted by his predecessor, Barack Obama, which prevented the deportation of immigrants illegally brought to the US as children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which has provided a legal status for upwards of one million people who have considered themselves Americans since DACA began in 2012, will be wound up over the next few months.

President Trump has given Congress six months to come up with new legislation which will maintain some of the legal protections – such as the ability to enrol in college, gain work permits or join the military without fear of imminent deportation.

“I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws. There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will.”

The current president has tasked his attorney general, Jeff Session, with getting rid of the guarantees for immigrants that were enshrined in the Obama-era legislation. His decision today provoked a rare rebuke from his predecessor, who has tried to keep criticism of president Trump to a minimum.

“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question,” Obama said in an 842-word statement. “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.

“Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages,” said the former president, who has largely refrained from remarking on Trump’s policies since leaving office.

Voices on the right also expressed their disapproval with the decision. The Republican senator for Arizona, John McCain, said that the decision to eliminate DACA “was the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border.

“I strongly believe that children who were illegally brought into this country through no fault of their own should not be forced to return to a country they do not know. The 800,000 innocent young people granted deferred action under DACA over the last several years are pursuing degrees, starting careers, and contributing to our communities in important ways.

“While I disagreed with President Obama’s unilateral action on this issue, I believe that rescinding DACA at this time is an unacceptable reversal of the promises and opportunities that have been conferred to these individuals.”

Fellow Republican senator Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), said he supported the decision but wanted the Trump administration to ensure the status of Dream Act children. “If President Trump chooses to cancel the DACA program and give Congress six months to find a legislative solution, I will be supportive of such a position.

“I have always believed DACA was a presidential overreach.

“However, I equally understand the plight of the Dream Act kids who -- for all practical purposes -- know no country other than America.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Trump’s order “a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America.”

“Deporting DREAMers means destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of patriotic young people, costing the economy billions and betraying the fundamental values of the American Dream,” Pelosi said.

Key figures in the technology industry, which employs many immigrants, were swift and strongly worded in their criticism of the decision. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Trump’s decision “particularly cruel.”

“This is a sad day for our country,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said the company is “deeply disappointed” by the move. He said Microsoft “will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees. If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal counsel.”

About 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children have received renewable, two-year work permits under DACA and are protected from deportation. Recipients have to undergo a background check and certify that they had not been convicted of any serious crimes.

Ending the program would cost employers $6.3 billion to dismiss roughly 720,000 workers and retrain their replacements, according to a report by David Bier of the Cato Institute. More than 350 chief executives of major companies signed a letter to the president last week urging him to preserve DACA’s protections.