Many voice disapproval as Trump administration seeks to scale back DACA program


Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at Port of Miami Terminal E on Aug. 16. In a letter delivered to the White House, Sessions wrote that he was submitting his resignation at the request of Trump, who has been highly critical of his attorney general since he recused himself last year from overseeing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration's plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a speech Tuesday morning at the Department of Justice.

Sessions touted the rule of law and called the program's implementation a circumvention of the Constitution's separation of powers. 

DACA was created through an executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012. It allows eligible immigrants who entered the country illegally as minors to stay and apply for work permits for a two-year period. The period of deferred action is renewable.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Trump had made the right decision by referring the issue to the legislative branch. 

"The main effect of today's announcement is that work permits and other government benefits are being gradually phased out," Sanders said.

Obama released a statement on Facebook on Tuesday calling the decision cruel. He said it was up to Congress to ensure protection for the future of young immigrants.

"Ultimately, this is about basic decency," Obama said. "This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be."

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, released a statement Monday calling on Congress to preserve DACA through legislative action. 

“Our country is still in need of reforms to fix our immigration system and strengthen border security, but in the interim we should pass bipartisan legislation to give these young people, who were brought here through no fault of their own, some clarity and stability,” Donnelly said in the statement.

Donnelly voted against the DREAM Act as a member of the House of Representatives in 2010.

In response to the decision, IU President Michael McRobbie released a statement saying the University was disappointed by the Trump administration's decision, especially given prior statements that seemed to affirm its support of DACA recipients. He said the University would not waver in its commitment to a diverse and inclusive learning environment.

"Since the inception of DACA in 2012, IU has seen the many benefits of this program," McRobbie said. "As they pursue educational opportunities across a wide variety of disciplines, DACA beneficiaries make a substantial positive impact on our campuses and in the Indiana communities they call home."

IU Student Association has not released an official statement regarding DACA, but it said it is working with other Big Ten student government leaders to create a cohesive strategy on supporting students affected by DACA. 

Dan Niersbach, IUSA president, said the organization's current goal is to wait and see what happens at the university level and adapt from there. 

"Of course, there's opportunities for IUSA to take it up at the state level and voice our opinions," Niersbach said. "But, it can be tough for a student government to go up against the federal agenda." 

He said the plan for now is to work with cultural centers who have established connections with students, as well as with IUSA Congress to put out an eventual message to the University's audience.

He said the University has worked behind the scenes in the past to make sure students are supported and said McRobbie has been pretty good about speaking up about things he doesn't agree with politically. 

Last fall, there were 17 reported DACA recipients at IU-Bloomington, though the University has said it does not voluntarily disclose students’ immigration status to federal authorities. In November, McRobbie signed a letter with the leaders of 640 other colleges and universities in support of DACA. 

Program enrollees are often referred to as “dreamers,” a reference to the DREAM Act. The act was a legislative proposal first introduced in 2001 that outlined a path for undocumented minors to obtain legal permanent residency. The proposal was not passed, but in its legislative lifetime, it received support from both Democrats and Republicans, including former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, who helped reintroduce the bill. 

After Sessions' announcement the Indiana Democratic Party released a statement condemning the decision. The Indiana Republican Party has not released a statement at this time. 

“Today, the Trump administration turned its back on hard-working immigrant families and students who only know this country as their home," the statement said.

The statement also mentioned the economic contribution DACA recipients make to Indiana.

"We know there is much work to be done to fix our broken immigration system," it said. "Subtracting half a billion dollars in GDP from the state’s economy won’t help in that aim, nor will building walls instead of bridges." 

College Democrats at IU released a statement saying even though Trump argued that crafting immigration policy was the job of Congress, the president was defying his own responsibilities.

"Yet, the President is flouting his own responsibility by abandoning a working policy in hopes that a gridlocked Congress will be able to replace it with comprehensive legislation within six months," the statement said. "This is unrealistic and irresponsible."

As of March 2017, there were approximately 18,000 people eligible for DACA in the state of Indiana, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Of the 18,000 eligible people, 10,709 of them have already applied and been accepted to the program. 

Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Dick Durbin, D-Illiniois, held a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon to talk about the DREAM Act and their plans going forward. In the past, Graham has been sympathetic to the plight of immigrants who entered the country at a young age.

Graham said the reason he believed a DREAM Act would be successful was support for legislation from both sides of the aisle. He said the process "to take care of the kids" would be a negotiated process and that Durbin had supported other border-security measures in the past.

"The question is, 'Can we come together?'" Graham said. "The answer is we have no other choice.”

Durbin, who introduced the original DREAM Act in 2001, said while he supported some border-security measures, Trump's proposed border wall was a step too far. 

Bernard Fraga, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at IU, said the decision was not surprising. 

“In order to understand why President Trump made the decision that he did, we have to understand that he made a campaign promise in 2016 to end the DACA program,” Fraga said.

He said while some Republican leaders have expressed some willingness to create a similar program through legislative processes, Congress has failed to do so in the past. He said Trump's campaign promise combined with Sessions' unwillingness to defend the program had made it unlikely that DACA would survive.

Fraga also said that while it is too early to imagine what a passable bill would look like, he sees a few possible options for Congress going forward. He said there's a possibility that long-term policy that solves the issue could be passed, but that it's also likely that Congress passes some form of legislation that leaves DACA recipients in limbo.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities – of which IU is a member – released a statement following the announcement in which he urged Congress to take action on behalf of those affected by the program's end. 

He said Congress should ease the concerns of the almost 800,000 people enrolled in the program who felt uncertain about their futures.

"Doing so would, at least, ensure the continuity of the deferred status protection and work authorization on which the young people participating in the DACA program relied when, for example, they enrolled in college," McPherson said. "It would also allow additional young people to apply for deferred status protection and work authorization."

IU's Office of International Services has a page on its website with resources for students facing immigration trouble. The page includes a list of immigration attorneys who have agreed to work for free or reduced prices for DACA students.

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