Washington – President Donald Trump on Tuesday ended a program that protected thousands of immigrant youths in Connecticut from deportation, placing the fate of those undocumented immigrants, brought to the United States as children, in the hands of a fractious Congress.
The Trump administration is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The president said no new applications would be accepted for the program, which provided eligible youths with two-year, renewable provisional legal status that protected them from deportation and provided them with a work permit.
But all existing DACA recipients would be protected until their two-year provisional legal status expired and those whose permits are facing “near-term expiration,” would be allowed to reapply for renewal until Oct. 5.
“This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out,” Trump said. “Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.
The Trump administration said it moved to phase out the program because nine attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, had vowed to sue to end the program, which former President Obama initiated in 2012 because Congress has failed to act to protect these children, known as “dreamers.”
Since then 800,000 youth have taken advantage of the program, thousands of them in Connecticut, where about 10,000 are believed eligible.
“We were faced with two options — wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation, or allow the judiciary to potentially shut the program down completely and immediately. We chose the least disruptive option,” said acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
The decision to end DACA provoked a firestorm, nonetheless.
“The morality of pardoning (Arizona former Sherriff Joseph) Arpaio while trashing the lives of 800k #Dreamers is clear. And deeply hypocritical on Executive discretion,” tweeted Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted, “To every Dreamer in Connecticut: this is a scary day, I know. But I will give every ounce of effort I have to fight for a way forward.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, “This move doubles down on President Trump’s damaging, divisive campaign rhetoric and prioritizes nationalistic propaganda over compassion, common sense, and sound policy.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, also a Democrat, called the president’s actions “nonsensical.”
“Denying these youths with access to work opportunities and affordable higher education goes against the very core of who we are,” Malloy said.
About 200 people showed up Tuesday afternoon for a pro-DACA demonstration at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, where school officials say 105 DACA recipients go to school.
ECSU President Elsa Núñez delivered an impassioned speech that left her in tears after she concluded her remarks.
“For the next six months, we’ve got to fight for DACA,” Núñez said. “I was sad yesterday, and I was sad this morning. Now, I’m ready to talk to every elected official in this country with every breath that I take, and say to them, ‘This is not fair. This is not right. It is not decent. And it’s not American.’”
Lucas Codognolla, executive director of Connecticut Students for a Dream, is among thousands of dreamers who are coming to Washington, D.C., this week to protest the president’s move and urge Congress to act on legislation that would give them permanent protections.
A bus that stopped in Hartford and Norwalk to pick up dreamers brought about 40 of them to the nation’s capital on Tuesday. They plan to join other dreamers at rallies at the White House, Justice Department and offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A smaller group of dreamers began a four-day hunger strike in protest of Trump’s actions.
Codognolla, 26, was brought from Brazil to the United States when he was 9 years old. He said he just renewed his DACA status, for the third time, last week and is “disheartened and angry” Trump phased out the program.
But he’s optimistic Congress will act on a more permanent way to shield the dreamers.
“I’m confident that Congress can pass something,” he said.
So is Camila Bortolleto, a leader of Connecticut Students for a Dream who joined fellow dreamers on Tuesday in the march from the White House to ICE headquarters.
“This is the moment for Congress to do something,” she said.
However, Bortolleto said legislation may not be approved right way, and “we are going to have to push forward to make it happen.”
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!”
Two separate approaches are under debate in Congress.
One bill, known as the BRIDGE Act, would provide protections that are similar to those afforded under DACA – but only for three years.
Under the bill, youths born after June 15, 1981, who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived in the United States since June 15, 2007, would be eligible for a work permit and protection from deportation. Applicants for protection also must be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or have served honorably in the military. Those convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors would be barred from the program.
The DREAM Act offers another approach, a route to permanent legal status for youth who qualify and is preferred by the dreamers and their advocates.
Doug Penn, a Stamford-based immigration lawyer, said he thinks Congress will take the more conservative approach and favor the BRIDGE Act, “to buy themselves more time.”
The fate of legislation lies with congressional Republicans, who are split on the issue.
A growing number of Republicans urged Trump not to end the DACA, with some, like Sen. John McCain, lashing out at the president in harsh terms.
“President Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA is 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,” said McCain, who committed to support the DREAM Act.
Other conservative Republicans reject providing protection to dreamers.
Still others say dreamer legislation must be coupled with a down payment of about $1.6 billion to build Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“I think it’s important that we push for legislation that does not include any enforcement,” said Codognolla.
Penn, meanwhile, predicted Democrats would also use DACA as a bargaining chip as the GOP moves on must-pass legislation this month, including bills to raise the federal debt limit and keep the federal government funded after Sept. 30. GOP leaders also hope for approval of a defense authorization bill, a tax overhaul and potentially try once again to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I think we are going to see (DACA) weaponized on both sides,” Penn said. “But I’m hoping for a clean solution without holding the kids hostage.”