Mass officials blast Trump’s DACA decision as ‘shameful’

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said he expects a “historic debate” about DACA on the Senate floor in Washington. Sam Doran/SHNS photo

A handful of Massachusetts elected officials on Tuesday slammed President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program that protects children brought to America illegally by their parents from deportation as heartbreaking, shameful, hypocritical and “just plain evil.”

The Trump administration’s announcement Tuesday that it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy implemented by the Obama administration within six months was met in Massachusetts with some of the strongest anti-Trump rhetoric yet and pledges to fight the policy change.

“These young people are not the so-called bad hombres that Donald Trump said that he was going to focus on,” Sen. Edward Markey said at a press conference in downtown Boston. “This is heartbreaking, it is unjust and it is just plain evil. ... These dreamers are engineers, police officers, teachers, students ... they are our best and our brightest and are making the most of the opportunities that the United States has always provided for immigrant families.”

“I can say this honestly to the White House: We don’t want you here in Boston. We don’t want any part of you in Boston. We’re doing perfectly fine without you,” Walsh said, adding that Trump and Sessions are causing embarrassment for America around the world.

In a statement, Trump said the issue of DACA must be resolved “with heart and compassion - but through the lawful Democratic process” and that his administration is not going to target DACA beneficiaries for deportation.

“Our enforcement priorities remain unchanged. We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators,” the president said in the statement. “I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”

Markey said there are approximately 8,000 Massachusetts residents currently in the DACA program who would be “needlessly put in jeopardy” when the program expires and said the state and national economies would be harmed by the decision. Over 10 years, the national GDP would lose $460 billion and the federal government would see $24.6 billion less in Social Security and Medicare taxes over that same time period if the program is scrapped.

Among those who have benefitted from DACA is Diana Ortiz, who came to America from Mexico illegally as a six-year-old child with her mother. A Harvard graduate, Ortiz called on Congress to “have the courage to make something permanent.”

“We knew that DACA was a temporary program and yet it allowed us to take a breath of fresh air for once in our lives to be able to work without the fear of being deported, to be able to travel within the United States without the fear of being deported,” she said.

Ortiz added, “We are such a part of this country and we only wish for this country to see us for what we are. We are Americans by heart, even if we’re not American by law.”

Markey said Congressional Republicans should be prepared for “a political juggernaut of voices and calls and protests demanding protections for Dreamers” when they return to session later this week. He said he expects a “historic debate” on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Markey said he hopes that Congress will tack protections for DACA beneficiaries onto the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which must be taken up by the Senate before the 2017 budget expires on Sept. 30.

In making the announcement Tuesday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA was fatally flawed because of the way in which the Obama administration put the policy in place.

“The policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens ... such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch,” Sessions said at a Tuesday press conference.

He added, “If we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach.”

Attorney General Maura Healey refuted Sessions’ claims as lies and said that while DACA has been the subject of litigation the courts have never ruled the program unconstitutional or illegal.

“I am tired of the hypocrisy, I am tired of the lies and I am tired of the misinformation,” she said. “DACA has been challenged in court and has been left standing. And more importantly, these are young people who are doing everything right and playing by the rules and following the rule of law.”

Trump administration officials said no current DACA beneficiaries will be impacted before March 5, 2018, but no new requests for DACA benefits will be acted upon after Tuesday. Renewal requests already in the pipeline and those filed by Oct. 5 will still be considered, officials said. After a person’s DACA status expires, “they would be like any other person in the country illegally,” a senior DHS official told reporters Tuesday morning.

The White House’s plan, senior Department of Homeland Security officials said, is to wind down the DACA program by March 5, 2018 and look to Congress to enact legislation to address the issue of children brought illegally to America by their parents by the time DACA benefits run out for current beneficiaries.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, criticized the president’s decision as one that will be detrimental to Massachusetts communities and the economy. The local chapter of the ACLU pegged the local economic impact at $606 million.

“President Trump made the wrong decision today that could negatively impact our economy and many of the Commonwealth’s families,” the governor said in a statement. “I hope Congress acts quickly to find a bipartisan, permanent solution to maintain the protections of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, which includes approximately 8,000 young Massachusetts residents who are right now serving in our military, attending our schools and contributing to our economy while striving to give back to their communities.”

Asked what, if anything, Baker plans to do about DACA recipients who currently attend Massachusetts public higher education institutions at the in-state tuition rate, Baker’s press office referred the News Service to the governor’s statement.

A press aide did not respond when asked if that meant the governor believes there is no state level action to be taken.

Former Gov. Deval Patrick used Obama’s executive order five years ago to expand the pool of individuals eligible to pay lower in-state tuition rates at public higher education institutions.

On Tuesday, the presidents of the nine state universities called on House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to advance legislation (H 2231/S 668) filed by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Harriette Chandler that would allow public higher education institutions to continue to extend in-state tuition rates to previously qualifying undocumented students covered under DACA.

“Simply put, passage of the bill would allow us to continue what we have done for the past several years and extend to all our Massachusetts students in-state tuition,” Vincent Pedone, executive officer of the State University Council of Presidents, said in a letter.

In a joint statement with the Boston Public Schools issued on Sunday, the 15 public community college presidents in Massachusetts said they are committed to educating all who pass through their doors and called rescinding DACA contradictory to their educational values.

Similar condemnations of the president’s action came from other top elected Democrats across the state, including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Reps. James McGovern, Seth Moulton and Bill Keating, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

Even Obama himself, who has seldom ventured back into the public eye or the political arena since leaving the White House in January, took to social media Tuesday to condemn Trump’s decision.

“To target these young people is wrong - because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating - because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel,” the former president said in a statement.