Donald Trump has ended an Obama-era policy that has shielded nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation – but has called on Congress to pass legislation to let the so-called ‘Dreamers’ stay in the US.
Mr Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, calling it an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws” and an unconstitutional use of executive authority.
“The program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Mr Sessions, a longtime DACA opponent, told reporters at a news conference, adding that “the policy was implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern.”
“The executive branch through DACA deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorise on multiple occasions,” Mr Sessions said.
The Trump administration has given Congress until March 5 to pass legislation to replace DACA.
White House officials – seemingly realising there is popular support for the ‘Dreamers’ outside of Mr Trump’s base – have made clear in recent weeks that deporting criminals is still the priority. However, immigration is a polarising topic and the move is likely to cause splits within the President’s Republican party.
Mr Trump is said to have agonised over the decision, having previously told Fox News in 2011: “You have people in this country for 20 years: They’ve done a great job, they’ve done wonderfully, they’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten good marks (and) they’re productive,” “Now we’re supposed to send them out of the country? I don’t believe in that,” he added at the time.
On Tuesday morning, before Mr Sessions’ announcement, Mr Trump suggested that he would punt the issue over to Congress.
“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!,” the President tweeted.
Mr Trump’s decision to end DACA has already been opposed by leaders in both political parties.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week that he didn’t think Mr Trump should terminate the programme.
“I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix,” the top House Republican told a Wisconsin radio station on Friday.