Trump ends ‘Dreamers’ program, leaving fate of 800,000 uncertain

Trump terminates Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects migrants from deportation, a move that Obama called ‘cruel’ and ‘wrong’

People demonstrate in favor of the Daca program at a rally in New York City. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters

Donald Trump thrust the fate of nearly 800,000 young, undocumented migrants into uncertainty on Tuesday by terminating the Obama-era program that protects the so-called Dreamers from deportation.

In response, Barack Obama said the decision was “self-defeating” and contrary to “basic decency”.

A “shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again”, the former president said.

The 2012 policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) will be phased out by 5 March 2018, leaving Congress with six months to enact new protections for Dreamers through legislation. On Tuesday night, Trump suggested that if Congress failed to “legalize Daca” he would “revisit” the program.

New applications will no longer be accepted, while those currently in the program will all lose their status by March 2020, with the first permits expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing the young immigrants to stay.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a written statement issued shortly after attorney general Jeff Sessions announced the policy. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

Trump, who later told reporters he had “great love” for Dreamers, said he had advised the Department of Homeland Security that Daca recipients were “not enforcement priorities [for deportation] unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang”.

And he called on Congress to act, saying he was providing US lawmakers with “a window of opportunity” to address the status of Dreamers. “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” he tweeted earlier.

But the president stopped short of outlining what sort of legislation he would support to codify protections for Dreamers into law.

Sessions announced the administration’s decision in a statement delivered from the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington in which he said Daca was “being rescinded”.

“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest,” Sessions said, “we cannot admit everyone…

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