Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday that the Trump Administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program – also called DACA – and allow legal protections for the roughly 800,000 “DREAMers,” who arrived in the country illegally as children, to expire in six months.
Unless Congress acts, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said on Tuesday, ending DACA will hurt the city’s universities and hospitals as well as tech and other corporate employers.
“These are people who are absolutely vital to the economy of southwestern Pennsylvania,” Peduto said.
DACA permitted individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children or teens before mid-2007 to apply for protection from deportation if they met certain requirements. Pennsylvania is home to 5,889 DREAMers, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
In his announcement, Sessions said the administration will begin to wind down DACA, which former President Barack Obama ordered by executive action in 2012, over the next six months. It is Congress’s responsibility, Sessions said, to develop and enact new protections.
As NPR reports, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said the administration faced legal challenges to the program and "chose the least disruptive option” for bringing it to an end. In a statement, Duke said the administration's decision to terminate DACA "was not taken lightly. The Department of Justice has carefully evaluated the program's constitutionality and determined it conflicts with our existing immigration laws."
President Trump had signaled the decision earlier on Tuesday, tweeting, “Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!”
“President Trump’s action today is an insult to America and our values,” U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said in a statement following Sessions’ announcement. “This action is profoundly unjust, immoral and without regard for basic fairness. Tearing apart the lives of these young people will make our nation less safe, and harm our economy.”
Casey cited research from the D.C.-based right-leaning think tank, the CATO Institute, which found that the fiscal cost to the federal government of immediately deporting current participants in the DACA program would exceed $60 billion. Such action would also reduce national economic growth by $280 billion over the next decade, according to CATO.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that the 1.3 million people enrolled in or eligible for DACA pay $2 billion each year in state and local taxes.
Immigrants also play a significant role in Pittsburgh’s economy, according to Peduto.
“This is a workforce that has been cultivated over years and years of people who are now our neighbors, and we don’t want to lose them and we’re going to do everything we can to protect them,” Peduto said.
Peduto suggested that the economic impact of ending DACA could persuade Republican lawmakers to enact new protections for DREAMers.
“I can only hope that Republicans in Congress will heed the words of corporate America and make sure that this never comes to fruition,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) applauded President Trump’s decision to end DACA. In a statement, Rothfus said that former President Barack Obama illegally circumvented Congress to implement DACA by executive order.
“The Trump Administration’s action to end this unconstitutional program restores the rule of law and allows Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority to set immigration policy,” said Rothfus, who represents the 12th Congressional District in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The U.S., Rothfus said, must secure its borders before “addressing the status of children who were brought here through no fault of their own by their parents.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), whose district includes Pittsburgh, countered in a separate statement that “DACA was a reasonable and compassionate way to deal with undocumented young people who came to this country as children and grew up here.”
Peduto called the Trump administration’s decision to revoke protections for DREAMers, barring action by Congress, cruel.
“It’s probably one of the worst decisions that could be made on both the moral and ethical level – telling people who basically came to this country from a country that they don’t know that they have to return back there,” Peduto said.
Before Sessions announced the Trump administration’s policy on Tuesday, Peduto had begun to discuss potential countermeasures with a bipartisan network of mayors who represent cities across the country. They had not yet chosen a specific course of action in regard to DACA, Peduto said.
In his statement, Casey urged Congress to “move immediately to pass the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would allow the DREAMers to become permanent residents if they meet the very stringent qualifications outlined in the bill.”
In the meantime, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said that, while he is “carefully reviewing the President’s DACA directive,” he won’t hesitate to “take legal action if the federal government breaks the law as it ends its commitment to these young people.”