Washington — Michigan lawmakers are urging swift congressional action after President Donald Trump’s administration said Tuesday it would phase out a program protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Democrats called for Congress to immediately reinstate the protections against deportation for 800,000 illegal immigrants 15 and older who have continuously lived in America since June 2007. Former President Barack Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012 by executive order, a move that supporters called prosecutorial discretion and critics labeled an unconstitutional abuse of power.
Trump insisted it was up to Congress, not him, to address the immigrants’ plight. But he didn’t specify what he wanted done.
On Twitter Tuesday night, he wrote: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
The Trump administration’s policy change generated outrage around the country and in Metro Detroit, where protesters held rallies in Detroit and Troy to show their displeasure. Many of those in attendance were young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers.”
Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat, said Tuesday’s announcement confirms the Trump administration is “the most anti-immigrant administration in generations.”
“The anti-immigrant rhetoric of this administration is not what our nation is about and they are wrong as a matter of law and policy,” said Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
“The six-month delay in initiating this process does no justice for these Dreamers and the families who will be torn apart.”
It’s unclear whether Republicans can reach a consensus on immigration reform that would let the program continue and have recipients earn legal status. And many GOP lawmakers are unclear about what specific legislative protections they would support.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would stop processing new applications after Tuesday for the program but would continue renewing permits for individuals whose status expires in the next six months. This gives Congress the chance to pass legislation, “should it so choose,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
“To have a lawful system of immigration and serve the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Sessions said in announcing the change.
“If we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this type of overreach.”
Sessions stressed that the program had been implemented unilaterally by the Obama administration after Congress “on multiple occasions” rejected proposals to extend similar benefits to immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children.
Conyers referred to a letter from more than 100 law professors who opined that the program is “lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
Renewal extended a month
Michigan ranks 26th among the states with just over 10,000 residents in the program as of June 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Most program beneficiaries live in California, Texas, Illinois and New York, according to the agency.
The federal government has set an Oct. 5 deadline for people to apply for renewal of their deportation protection if their status expires within the next six months.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said lawmakers in Washington should “act quickly to authorize and clarify” the status of immigrants protected under the Obama administration’s program, which is called DACA.
“We are the best Michigan when we are a diverse Michigan – one that is made up of people whose stories and journeys are not identical,” Snyder said in a statement.
“In Michigan, we will continue to honor everyone’s journey who has become part of our family of 10 million people, and remain the most welcoming state in the nation for immigrants and Dreamers seeking prosperity, a home and a community that is accepting of their family and their desire to succeed in America.”
Rep. Fred Upton, a St. Joseph Republican, wants a legislative fix, saying it’s the responsibility of Congress to devise a “fair, rigorous and bipartisan” solution to address the uncertainty faced by the Dreamers.
“For these young men and women, the United States is their home. They’ve been raised in our neighborhoods, attended our schools, served in our military and worked in our communities,” said Upton, who voted against ending DACA in 2015.
“I’ve met with countless concerned individuals impacted by DACA and heard from local universities, restaurant and small business owners, as well as my farmer friends who all agree we must take care of these folks.”
Legislative fixes exist
Upton supports two bills in Congress that he says would use a “compassionate but accountable way” to address undocumented individuals brought to the country as minors “through no fault of their own.”
One bill, the BRIDGE Act, would preserve for three years the legal protections for young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S., so Congress can come up with a longer-term solution.
The other bill, sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and more than a dozen other Republicans, would offer a pathway to U.S. citizenship to immigrants who entered illegally before Jan. 1, 2012, and were age 16 or younger.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, agreed with Tuesday’s decision to rescind DACA, saying Obama’s program was an abuse of executive authority that bypassed Congress.
“It is my hope that both Republicans and Democrats will rise to the challenge and focus on crafting solutions that move us forward, instead of engaging in rhetoric that is geared toward dividing our nation,” Huizenga said.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, tweeted: “Our Constitution vests all legislative powers in Congress. Let’s work together to responsibly address #DACA and other immigration matters.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, called the decision to end DACA “heartbreaking,” adding that the affected immigrants were brought to the country by their parents “through no fault of their own” and now make “significant” contributions to the nation’s economy.
“Nearly all Dreamers are in the workforce or in school. Our economy stands to lose hundreds of billions of dollars annually if these individuals are deported,” Kildee said in a statement.
“Congress can and must act to fix our broken immigration system, including passing legislation to protect Dreamers.”
Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said Trump’s decision restores the balance of powers among the branches of government.
“We are a nation of laws, and those laws must be respected at every level,” Mitchell said in a statement. “For many years, Congress has failed to address our antiquated immigration laws. It’s time to act. Short-term fixes are not solutions.”
Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, described the DACA decision as “reprehensible,” saying Trump put “forth the whip of deportation.”
“Congress must now work together and act because this is not what America stands for, not only for 800,000 Dreamers, but for all of us in America as each of us lives out our own dreams, as did those who came before us,” Levin said.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he “strongly” disagrees with ending DACA, calling the decision “irresponsible” and unfair to Michiganians who “voluntarily came out of the shadows and only creates instability for these young people who are now at risk of losing the only home they have ever known.”
The Trump administration has acknowledged that DACA recipients could potentially be deported after their status expires.
Senior homeland security officials told reporters Tuesday that the administration has no plans to target DACA recipients, saying their enforcement priorities continue to be those convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors and those with outstanding orders for removal from the country.
Associated Press contributed.
Obama: A ‘cruel’ decision
Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the Trump administration’s decision to repeal a program protecting young immigrants from deportation “cruel” and “self-defeating.” He urged Congress to pass a bill fixing the situation “with a sense of moral urgency.”
In a Facebook message, Obama said repealing the program casts a shadow over some of the nation’s best and brightest young people.
“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong,” he wrote.
The former president added that deporting “Dreamers” does not make sense, since “kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.”
“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,” Obama said. “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?”