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White House Gives Congress 6 Months to Act on DACA, Leaving 800,000 Immigrant Children in Limbo

Immigrant Jose Montes attends an event on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, DAPA, part of the immigration relief program, downtown Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 17, 2015. Photo: Nick Ut/AP

The White House announced on Tuesday a decision to end an Obama-era policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that let an estimated 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants live in the United States without fear of deportation. 

The decision will not go into effect for six months, giving Congress time to pass legislation that would keep undocumented “DREAMers” in the United States. 

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“I’m here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press conference Tuesday morning. 

While Sessions acknowledged that “this [decision] does not mean that [DACA recipients] are bad people,” he called Obama’s executive order an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.” 

“The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we accept each year, and that means all cannot be accepted,” Sessions said. 

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The DACA program was put in place by former president Barack Obama in 2012. It came after the proposed 2010 DREAM Act, which would have created a legal pathway for undocumented immigrants to receive citizenship, failed to pass in Congress. 

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The policy allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to receive a renewable two-year deferred action from deportation, enabling them to apply for a temporary work permit and driver’s license; start a business; and attend college. 

“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship,” Obama said at the time. “This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.” 

An estimated 800,000 undocumented children currently take advantage of the program, CityLab reports

In order to qualify for the program, young immigrants must have come to the United States after 2007, and must have come before they turned 16. They are individuals who do not “present a risk to national security or public safety,” and must undergo a background check that includes fingerprinting. DACA recipients can renew their status every two years. 

The Trump administration’s decision was met by criticism on both sides of the aisle. Two states, Washington and New York, have vowed to sue the administration if DACA is repealed. 

Business leaders have also spoken out against Trump’s decision

It’s estimated that if DACA is repealed the US could lose 700,000 jobs over the next two years as undocumented workers who benefited from DACA are unable to renew their work permits — leading to a potential economic loss of $460 billion in the next decade

"Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs," a letter signed onto by more than 400 business leaders, including the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, and Facebook said. "They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage."

But some Republicans argued that the 6-month grace period for Congress to come up with a legislative alternative to DACA is too generous. 

Others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, urged Congress to create a legal pathway for DACA recipients to stay in the US. 

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“These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don't know another home,” Paul Ryan said in a radio interview Friday. “And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution."

“My hope is that as part of this process we can work on a way to deal with this issue and solve it through legislation, which is the right way to do it and the constitutional way to do it,” Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN in June. 

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a set of 17 goals for ending extreme poverty by 2030. This includes Global Goal 8 — “decent work and economic growth” — which could be threatened if 800,000 young immigrants are deported from the United States. You can take action here.

Global Citizen will continue to update this story as more reactions come in.