Skip to main content

Trump ends protection for undocumented migrants brought to US as children

The US president draws rebukes from politicians, civil rights leaders and business executives for ending DACA
Protesters gather outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington to protest plan to repeal DACA on 5 September (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump drew strong opposition from politicians, civil rights leaders and business executives on Tuesday after rescinding a programme that protected undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.

Trump scrapped the Obama-era initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), delaying implementation until March and giving Congress six months to decide the fate of almost 800,000 young people.

The action was announced not by the president but by Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, who called DACA an unconstitutional overreach by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Trump later issued a written statement saying, "I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognise that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."

President Trump proved once again that he is not a president for all Americans, but only a few

- Michael Tan, ACLU

The administration said nobody covered by the programme, which provided work permits in addition to deportation protection, and primarily benefits Hispanics, would be affected before 5 March. Most of the people covered by DACA are now in their 20s.

By deferring the actual end of the programme, Trump effectively kicked responsibility for the fate of those covered by DACA to his fellow Republicans who control Congress. But neither Trump nor Sessions offered details of the type of legislation they would want to see, and Trump's spokeswoman offered only a broad outline.

Since Trump took office in January, Congress has been unable to pass any major legislation, most notably failing on a healthcare overhaul, and lawmakers have been bitterly divided over immigration in the past.

While Congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, have urged Trump to keep DACA, some Republican lawmakers have voiced their opposition to any programme that gives amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Angry reactions

Obama, whose administration implemented DACA, said ending the policy will not benefit Americans nor create jobs.

"Ultimately, this is about basic decency," Obama said in a statement. "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."

Javier Palomarez, president of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, resigned from Trump's diversity council after the decision.

"Let's lay the truth bare: President Trump has knowingly deceived the American people over the past seven months about his intentions to protect the innocent young men and women of the DACA program ... Now they will be awake at night wondering whether tomorrow will be their last day on American soil," Palomarez said in a statement.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also denounced Trump, calling on Congress to act.

"This is a sad day for our country. The decision to end DACA is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American Dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.

JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive Jamie Dimon and Microsoft president Brad Smith also expressed disagreement with ending the programme.

Smith said Microsoft has at least 39 employees protected by DACA, and the company will pay for their legal fees in fighting to stay in the US.

Michael Tan, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Trump of standing with “the nativists in rejecting communities of color and people of good will who understand that America’s greatest strength comes from inclusivity, not exclusion”.

"President Trump proved once again that he is not a president for all Americans, but only a few," he said in a post published on the organisation's website.

'Nationalist viewpoint'

Mexican and Salvadoran officials expressed concern and sadness on Tuesday after Trump announced plans to phase out the popular programme that shields hundreds of thousands of young unauthorised migrants from deportation.

Mexico's deputy foreign minister, Carlos Sada, said Trump's decision created "anxiety, anguish and fear". The change could affect some 625,000 Mexican nationals.

These are largely attacks on immigrants from a nationalist viewpoint

-Nadia Tonova, ACCESS

"They are exceptional. This is as emotional for the United States as for Mexico," Sada said at a news conference.

He urged for a quick solution to the uncertainty that "Dreamers," as they are commonly called, now face in their adopted home.

Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a Washington-based rights group, said DACA impacts all communities in the US.

"Yes, we have a significant number of Arab and Muslim recipients of DACA. I have worked with many Dreamers from our community," he wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.

According to US government data, Pakistani “Dreamers” are among the top 20 beneficiaries of DACA with 1,880 recipients as of June 2016.

Nadia Tonova, director of national partnerships for ACCESS, the largest Arab-American non-profit organisation, said reversing DACA goes against American values.

In his announcement, Attorney General Sessions said DACA "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens".

But Tonova said immigrants create jobs, denouncing Sessions' “divisive” assertion.

Islamophobic and anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric come from the same institutions and are linked ideologically, she said.

“These are largely attacks on immigrants from a nationalist viewpoint,” Tonova told Middle East Eye.