Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement at the Justice Department in Washington on Tuesday on President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as the DACA program.
President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to end a program that shielded about 2 million Americans who arrived in the country as children from deportation drew criticism from Democrats and calls for immigration reform.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, called it “cruel to deport people to a country they wouldn’t even recognize” and insisted it would also be “a major disruption to our economy.”
She said she hopes Congress “will act swiftly to pass legislation to give Dreamers a pathway to remain in the only country they’ve ever known.”
In a statement on Twitter, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said Congress “must act quickly to protect those who were brought to the U.S. as children and in many cases know only our country as home. It is not right to hold children responsible for the actions of their parents.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there would be an orderly “wind-down process” while the Department of Homeland Security ends the program that has provided 800,000 registered aliens who came to the country as children with permission to remain and work in the United States. Many other eligible immigrants have not registered.
Sessions said the program, enacted five years ago by President Barack Obama, was unconstitutional and couldn’t be successfully defended in court. He also said it lacked respect for the ability of Congress to establish the nation’s immigration laws.
The attorney general said the members of Congress can, if they choose, update the law in the coming months to leave the protections offered by the program in place.
Republican Eric Brakey, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, said that Obama’s executive orders on immigration “were the kind of unconstitutional power grab that I oppose from any president, regardless of party.”
“Only Congress has the authority to make broad changes in immigration policy, but establishment politicians” such as U.S. Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent Brakey hopes to unseat in 2018, “have been asleep at the wheel: grandstanding on the issue rather than working to develop solutions that help the American people,” the Auburn state senator said.
King said, “Those protected under DACA came here as children with their parents — at no fault of their own — and have been here for years and years. In that time, they’ve worked to provide for their families, pay taxes, and contribute to the American economy.”
“While I am disappointed the administration has chosen to rescind this program, I am hopeful that Congress will take this opportunity to work together and find a long-term legislative solution that reflects our country’s values and supports driven young people looking to work and live in the country they call home,” King said.
Democratic congressional candidate Craig Olson said the new policy is “short-sighted, cruel, and inhumane.”
“To spread a culture of fear and unrest by attacking individuals, most of whom know nothing but life in the United States and are law-abiding citizens, going to school, working, raising their children, and contributing to their communities is a gross misuse of their power and not what this country has stood for in welcoming immigrants,” Olson stated.
Olson, who hopes to claim Maine’s 2nd District seat, said he doubts Congress will take action to provide relief for the young people “who had no say in their illegal entry to the United States.”
It should create “a reasonable path to citizenship for those caught in this unfortunate limbo,” he said. “How can we be a country that lifts everyone up when we attack the most vulnerable? We have to work together, across the aisle, on immigration reform, not simply attack the victims.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, said those enrolled in the DACA program who “have been fully law-abiding members of our society” should be “protected from deportation through legislative action by Congress.”
“A child should not be held responsible for the actions of parents who chose to break our immigration laws,” Poliquin said.
He said lawmakers have “waited far too long to act on serious border security and to implement an effective system to control who enters our county.”
Poliquin said no president “can simply sidestep Congress” to create immigration laws on his own, so Obama acted illegally to create the program in 2012. He said legislators, though, can take action.
“Congress must act to improve our border security, to find a solution to address those well-meaning individuals now caught in DACA status and to update our immigration policies which reduce incentives to break the law,” Poliquin said. “America can continue to be a nation of laws, border security and controlled immigration.”
Another Democrat hoping to take Poliquin’s seat, Tim Rich, said the president’s decision is “irresponsible and cruel.”
“Children should not be forced to pay for their parents’ actions,” said Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who is running for a U.S. House seat. “America’s a place where it doesn’t matter who your parents are or what they did; what matters is who you are.
“We should stand by the promise made to these young kids and give them an opportunity to contribute to our society,” Golden said.
“What needs to happen is for Congress to actually do something and pass comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders and promote sensible immigration policies that are good for America,” he said.
Democrat Emily Cain, the executive director of Emily’s List and a two-time unsuccessful 2nd District congressional candidate, said Trump “would rather appease white supremacists than protect hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said the administration’s decision “defies both common decency and common sense.”
He said the so-called Dreamers “grew up in our communities and have spent most, if not all, of their lives as proud Americans,” sharing the nation’s values and helping its economy.
“Republicans must put politics aside and give Dreamers the chance to give back to the communities they grew up in,” he said. “Removing protections from Dreamers would tear families apart, make our communities less safe, and hurt our economy by billions of dollars.”
Pingree said that Trump has yet again “created a crisis that Congress must solve” by working together.
“Putting the futures of 800,000 young people enrolled in DACA into limbo is irresponsible and inhumane,” she said. “Nearly 100 Maine residents will be immediately impacted by President Trump’s decision to deport young people who grew up here and are contributing members of our communities, and countless more minors will be forced into the shadows” because the homeland security department won’t take new DACA applications.
Rich said the 100 “children and young people” in Maine “would be forcibly sent back to countries they have never known” or “forced to work under the table just in order to get by.”
“The moral and fiscal cost of deporting the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in our country should be unbearable to any reasonable person,” he said.
Sessions offered support for the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants allowed without providing any protection for those who came to the country as children without the proper documents.
When the Dream Act was up for a vote in the Senate in 2010, Maine’s two senators at the time, Republicans Collins and Olympia Snowe, each voted, in a procedural move, to kill it.
Brakey said that Congress “must act, and credible border security measures must be the first step. We can have an America First immigration system — one that is both generous and legal while truly making us wealthier and more secure — but nothing can happen until we send people to Congress willing to do the job.”