(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump will end an Obama-era program preventing the deportation of immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, putting in legal limbo about 1 million people who consider themselves Americans.
Trump will delay the end of the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, for six months in the hope that Congress can pass legislation to codify the protections President Barack Obama created.
“Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday morning as lawmakers returned to Washington from their August recess.
Sessions announced Trump’s decision at a news conference at the Department of Justice.
Business leaders and lawmakers from both parties have warned the president that ending the program would have economic and social consequences. Some Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, said while they don’t agree with the executive action that began the policy five years ago, it should be up to Congress to come up with a more permanent solution.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Monday that Obama’s action was “a presidential overreach” but that the immigrants it protects “know no country other than America.”
“If President Trump makes this decision we will work to find a legislative solution to their dilemma,” he said in a statement.
Polls show that the vast majority of Americans believe that immigrants protected from deportation by DACA should be allowed to remain in the U.S.
Trump during last year’s campaign described the program as unconstitutional and promised to end it on his first day in office. Since assuming the presidency, though, he has spoken kindly of DACA’s beneficiaries and his administration has granted thousands of new permits to so-called “Dreamers.”
Attorneys general in 10 states threatened a legal challenge if the program continued beyond Sept. 5, creating a political deadline for Trump to make a decision on DACA. One state, Tennessee, dropped its threat in a letter from the state attorney general last week, citing the program’s “human element.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the move to end DACA as a “cruel act of political cowardice” by Trump and called for a legislative fix.
“Congress must move immediately to protect these courageous, patriotic Dreamers,” Pelosi said Monday in a statement. “House Republicans must join Democrats to pass legislation to safeguard our young DREAMers from the senseless cruelty of deportation and shield families from separation and heartbreak.”
There are a few legislative possibilities, including two bills introduced by Republican senators. The Dream Act of 2017 (S.1615) would codify parts of the DACA program, and the Bridge Act (S.128) would extend those same protections for three years to give lawmakers more time to work out a more permanent solution.
Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, also plans to introduce a measure shielding the young immigrants from deportation for five years if they work, pursue higher education or serve in the military.
But Congress faces a time crunch in September: It already must pass legislation to fund the government, raise the nation’s borrowing authority and increase disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Republicans have also been told they have until Sept. 30 to utilize a procedure in the Senate that would allow them to pass legislation changing or repealing Obamacare without facing a filibuster.
Adding a controversial issue such as immigration risks imperiling their agenda and stalling other priorities, chiefly an overhaul of the U.S. tax code.
Trump will face pressure from conservatives and some outside advisers to pair any legislative protections for Dreamers with reductions to legal immigration and stricter border enforcement. That could reduce the chances of reaching a bipartisan deal in Congress.
“There will be lots of members of Congress falling all over themselves to create an amnesty program, but they will include only token enforcement measures without cuts in legal immigration,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that has pushed to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. “The president should veto anything like that.”
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.
Obama, who began the program in 2012, has said he would feel compelled to involve himself in the debate if Trump were to end the program and begin deporting people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“That the notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids, when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out,” Obama told reporters in January.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security said it would formally end the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, or DAPA, that would have protected from deportation as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens. The Obama-era program never took effect after a Texas court blocked it.
Texas is leading the challenge to DACA. In a June 29 letter to Sessions, the 10 state attorneys general said they would file suit against the program in the same Texas court that blocked deportation protections for parents of citizens.
--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs Justin Sink Margaret Talev and Toluse Olorunnipa
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org, Justin Sink in Washington at email@example.com.
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