Former President Barack Obama and local leaders had harsh and kind words for the White House announcement Tuesday that it would shut down an immigration program for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
The President Donald Trump administration said it will repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and allowed them to receive work permits and go to school. Known as Dreamers, approximately 800,000 people are covered by DACA nationwide.
Obama addressed the repeal in a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
In the post, he called the repeal “cruel” and said a “shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again.”
“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong,” the post continued. “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. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.”
Obama said it is now up to Congress to “protect these young people and our future.”
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the Obama-era program an “open-ended circumvention of immigration law.” Beginning immediately, he said, no further applications would be accepted for DACA, and the two-year permits already issued will not be renewed beyond the current number expiring in March. DACA recipients also will not be allowed to travel and re-enter the country, according to The Washington Post.
Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!”
Illinois has the fourth-largest population of DACA recipients in the U.S., and the highest share in the Midwest with more than 42,000 recipients, according to the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. Of those, 36,000 are part of the workforce, while others are still in school. Their deportation would cost $2.3 billion from Illinois’ GDP, according to the coalition.
Local representatives were mixed on the decision.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said rolling back DACA puts “necessary pressure” on Congress to take action.
“The House has already begun that work, approving legislation this year to better enforce existing immigration laws, crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, and provide $1.6 billion for the construction of a physical barrier along our southern border,” Shimkus said. “We must continue working together to ensure our immigration system is not only fair to American citizens, but also fair and compassionate to young adults brought here illegally by their parents.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said even Obama said DACA was never meant to be a permanent fix.
“We need stronger border protections and enforcement measures, which the House has already started to address. However, part of this broken immigration system includes people who were brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own and for many of them, America is the only country they have ever known.... Now, President Trump has provided a timeline for Congress to address this issue and I hope together we can find a permanent, bipartisan solution that balances compassion and lawfulness.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, posted a statement on Facebook:
“Policies are only as durable as the process through which they are created. The confusion and uncertainty regarding the legal status of individuals affected by DACA is due in large part to the Obama administration’s insistence on sidestepping congressional authority. The House has already taken steps to make America safer, secure our borders and end sanctuary cities, but serious work remains. It is my sincere hope that the House and Senate, in coordination with the president, will find a just and reasonable solution for those affected by the DACA program, while also underscoring the importance of the rule of law.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, an original supporter of the DREAM Act since he first proposed it in 2001, said when he spoke to President Trump on Inauguration Day, he thanked the newly sworn president for his campaign promises to protect Dreamers.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Don’t worry. We are going to take care of those kids,’” Durbin said.
Durbin said despite his many disagreements with the president, he always “held out the hope that President Trump would keep his word.”
“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,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, agreed.
“Make no mistake: This decision is not about the rule of law, as Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions claims,” she said. “This is a gut-wrenching betrayal of American values that leaves nearly 800,000 of our neighbors vulnerable to deportation and tears families and communities apart.”
ABC Chicago reported that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner “avoided the topic” on Monday, but that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, has vowed to sue the Trump administration if DACA is eliminated.
Comments from others include:
▪ J.B. Pritzker, Democratic candidate for Illinois governor, in a letter to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats: “These young people trusted this government. Came out of the shadows. Submitted paperwork and underwent an extensive vetting process. In exchange, they were granted temporary relief from deportation and a work permit. Now they’re in school, working better jobs, earning higher wages, and contributing to their local economies… Stand with DREAMers across this nation and pass the BRIDGE Act. Pass comprehensive immigration reform. Put undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship.”
▪ Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis: “Welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and the refugee have been long-standing hallmarks of our American way of life and religious convictions,” he said. “In this spirit of compassion and solidarity, today I join my brother Catholic bishops, religious and civic leaders, the larger Catholic community, and people of good will in supporting the estimated 800,000 young people who have benefited from the DACA program. The Archdiocese of St. Louis will continue to be a place of welcome, service and mutual hospitality, especially to the suffering and most vulnerable among us.”
▪ Karlos Ramirez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis: “As thousands of young adults who arrived in this country undocumented through no fault of their own remain in limbo, we must encourage congress to act not only on their behalf but on behalf of our state and national economies, which will face loss of labor force by the thousands and loss of income by the millions.”