President Donald Trump on Tuesday ended an amnesty protecting 800,000 people brought to the United States illegally as minors from deportation, prompting a political firestorm.
The US leader — who had promised to act “with great heart” in the case of the so-called “Dreamers”, many of whom have lived most of their life in the United States — left it to his attorney general to make his final decision known.
“I am here today to announce that the programme known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded,” Jeff Sessions announced, arguing that the amnesty was unconstitutional and “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs”.
Residency permits will not be cancelled immediately, but will instead be phased out as they expire over the coming months and years. The Trump administration said it was now up to Congress to draft new legislation to address the situation of DACA recipients, many of whom come from Latin American countries.
“With the measures the Department is putting in place today, no current beneficiaries will be impacted before March 5, 2018, nearly six months from now, so Congress can have time to deliver on appropriate legislative solutions,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement.
If lawmakers fail to agree on new legislation, those impacted would find themselves in the country illegally when their current permits expire.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official said the people could then be deported, but there is “no plan at this time to target” them specifically.
Barack Obama implemented the DACA programme five years ago to help bring the children of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows of illegality, permitting them to study and work without fear.
The decision to scrap the scheme prompted widespread outcry, with business leaders, Democrats and many Republicans arguing that the policy would damage the economy and was not in keeping with US values.
Dim hope of reform
Top congressional Republican Paul Ryan called on lawmakers to step in. “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,” he said in a statement.
Much of the business world, especially the high-tech firms of California’s Silicon Valley, stood firmly against a DACA repeal. The programme offers the equivalent of a residence permit — renewable every two years — to young people who were under the age of 16 when they arrived and have no criminal record.
The chances of a badly divided Congress reaching a broad agreement on immigration reform in months — a task that has eluded them for years — appear dim.
Several Republican lawmakers had warned Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to be tough on illegal immigration, against cancelling the popular DACA programme.
Trump himself has publicly agonized and wavered over the fate of the young immigrants since arriving in the White House, calling it one of the most difficult decisions facing him, and declaring in the Oval Office last week: “We love the Dreamers.”
Over 2,800 Pakistanis to be affected by Trump’s repealing of immigration programme
More than 2,800 Pakistanis and over 5,500 Indians will be affected by the repealing of an immigration programme that protected undocumented aliens — who were brought to the United States as children — from deportation.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme that President Trump said he would repeal was introduced by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect children of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The programme benefitted nearly 800,000 people who were able to stay and obtain permits to work in the US.
While the vast majority of such undocumented children registered under DACA are from Mexico and Latin American countries, a report in Forbes magazine said thousands of Asian Americans were also among the “Dreamers”, a term coined to define children brought in as illegal immigrants.
“Currently around 30,000 Asian-Americans, comprising over 5,500 Indians and over 2,800 Pakistanis have received DACA,” the report said and added that India was in the top ten countries for undocumented immigrants who meet DACA eligibility criteria.
Many of such Asian-Americans spoke to Forbes on the condition of anonymity or that their names be changed, fearing that could jeopardise their chances of getting away when DACA ends in March, 2018.
The deadline is set by US President Trump for the Congress to come up with legislation to provide relief to DACA recipients; however, President Trump said on Wednesday that in case Congress failed to act, he will “revisit” the issue. He did not give details.
Most of the South Asia DACA recipients are those whose parents came to the United States on temporary travel documents such as tourist visas to escape “religious persecution” in the home or better economic opportunities.
Some of these families tried to seek asylum that would have given them the legal residency status but were denied. Some applied for employment visas but never granted; and there were others who simply lived in the “shadows” working illegally without any security or benefits.
Homes of many such illegal immigrants were recently raided by US Immigration and Customs officers and their parents are now held in detention centers, facing legal hurdles or are forced to wear tracking devices around their ankles.