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Trump: DACA wind-down gives Congress chance to act on immigration

By Allen Cone and Danielle Haynes
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Trump: DACA wind-down gives Congress chance to act on immigration
Immigration rights supporters protest against the Trump Administration's announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, near the White House on Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday said a wind-down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allows Congress the "opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform."

The president said that though he does "not favor punishing children ... for the actions of their parents," he disagrees with former President Barack Obama for using his executive powers in 2012 to create the DACA program.

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"The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws -- this is the bedrock of our constitutional system, which I took a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend," Trump said Tuesday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the elimination of DACA.

Later in the day, Trump tweeted that Democrats and Republicans have a chance to work together to pass immigration reform and if no deal is reached by then, he will "revisit the issue."

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"Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do)," Trump wrote.

Sessions made the announcement at the direction of Trump to rescind the program that gave legal protections to roughly 800,000 people.

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Sessions, who took no questions from reporters, did not give a timeframe, but the Trump administration also announced a plan to continue renewing permits for anyone whose status expires in the next six months.

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Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said "new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on."

Those whose status expires by March 5 have one month to apply for a new two-year permit, and those applications will be processed.

Trump said the gradual wind-down of DACA will allow Congress to create legislation reforming the immigration system.

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"Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first," the president said. "We are facing the symptom of a larger problem, illegal immigration, along with the many other chronic immigration problems Washington has left unsolved.

At the time he created DACA, Obama said it was a temporary move. On Tuesday, he issued a statement saying "it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents." He said Congress was never able to provide him with legislation reforming the U.S. immigration system, which is why he issued the executive order creating DACA.

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"We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm," he said. "Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result."

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But Sessions, in his speech, said the Department of Justice could not "defend this overreach."

"There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws," the former Alabama senator said. "Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, [and] enforce our laws."

Duke said the administration, facing legal challenges to the program, "chose the least disruptive option" in letting the program wind down in six months.

The period is intended to push Congress to pass legislation for DACA, the controversial program that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to obtain work permits and study in the country provided they meet certain guidelines, such as graduating from high school and "who do not present a risk to national security or public safety," as Obama said at the time.

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"This is not amnesty, this is not immunity," Obama said. "This is not a path to citizenship."

But if Congress fails to pass legislation by the end of six months, nearly 1 million migrants are at risk of being deported from a country they have lived in most of their lives. In their applications, so-called "Dreamers" -- those protected by the program -- gave personal information to the U.S. government.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he wants Congress to reach a solution in time.

"It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president's leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country," the Republican said.

Ryan's statement was similar to comments last week when he urged Trump not to rescind the order.

"Congress writes laws, not the president, and ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches," Ryan said. "But now there is more to do, and the president has called on Congress to act. The president's announcement does not revoke permits immediately, and it is important that those affected have clarity on how this interim period will be carried out. At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it's the only country they know. Their status is one of many immigration issues, such as border security and interior enforcement, which Congress has failed to adequately address over the years."

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Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., held a news conference Tuesday to talk about legislation they introduced in July called the Dream Act. Like DACA, the legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to "earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship," a news release they put out in July said.

Graham said he believes Congress can come together to pass the bill if Trump supports it.

"To the president, you have a chance to show the nation, as the president of all of us, where your heart is at," Graham said. "The question is: Can we come together? The answer is we have no other choice."

During his campaign, Trump said he would immediately end the program but he had wavered since becoming president. He said he would "deal with DACA with heart" and said "we love Dreamers."

In the statement Tuesday, Trump said: "As I've said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion - but through the lawful Democratic process - while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans."

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Four hours before Sessions announced the program was being rescinded, Trump posted on Twitter "Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!"

Congress in the past has failed to approve an immigration policy.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said a six-month timeframe to find new legislation for DACA was too long and it should be ended immediately.

On Sunday, he posted on Twitter: "ending DACA now gives chance 2 restore Rule of Law. Delaying so R Leadership can push Amnesty is Republican suicide."

A group of conservative state attorneys general threatened to sue the Trump administration in federal court unless it begins to dismantle the program by Tuesday.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a letter last June to Sessions and co-signed by nine other state attorneys general, urged the administration to phase out DACA.

In 2014, Obama sought to expand the program, but 26 states sued the federal government to block the expansion along with DAPA.

The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on the decision and left a preliminary injunction in place against the expanded version of DACA, but left the original version in place.

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Reacting to Sessions' announcement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, said the city would continue to welcome Dreamers and declared it a "Trump-free zone."

"To all the Dreamers that are here in this room, and in the city of Chicago, you are welcomed in the city of Chicago. This is your home and you have nothing to worry about.

"Chicago, our schools, our neighborhoods, our city, as it relates to what President Trump said, will be a Trump-free zone. You have nothing to worry about," he added.

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