As Expected, Donald Trump Will Wind Down DACA Program in Six Months

Reyna Montoya protests the end of DACA in front of a local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building on Thursday, August 31.
Courtesy of Diego Lozano with Aliento
Reyna Montoya protests the end of DACA in front of a local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building on Thursday, August 31.
As expected, the President Donald Trump's Administration will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this morning.

The White House plans to scrap the program, but delay the enforcement of the president's plan for six months to give Congress time to decide on the future of DACA, an Obama-era program that offers undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children protection and permission to work.

Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican, immediately denounced the decision as "the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border."

Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego said, "The DACA program represents the very best of America — our generosity, our openness, our compassion. On the other hand, this decision represents the very worst of Donald Trump ... Trump's uncontrollable impulse to indulge the most hateful elements of our society knows no bounds. It wasn't enough to equivocate as Nazis marched in Charlottesville or to pardon a proudly racist Sheriff in Arizona; he felt compelled to go one enormous step further by exposing 800,000 Dreamers to deportation from the only country that most have ever known."

But state Representative Kelly Townsend, a Republican, supported the president's decision.

“While I am sympathetic to the plight of a young person who has been brought to another country by their parents and remembers no other country but ours, I am also concerned with the trend of turning our eyes from our laws and instead governing by emotion," the majority whip in the Arizona House said in a statement. "That is a dangerous path that could lead us to great uncertainty as a nation if not brought under control. Rather, we should work to perfect our laws instead of ignoring them.”

Reyna Montoya, one of the nearly 28,000 young adult unauthorized immigrants in Arizona protected by the program,  said that the choice to end DACA will disrupt the lives of a group of immigrants who'd grown up in the U.S. and contributed to the economy.

Montoya was flying about 39,000 feet above ground on a plane ride home from the East Coast when the news broke. Watching Sessions' announcement on her laptop after renting airplane Wi-Fi, she felt her heart sink below sea level.

"It was just a really heartbreaking thing — to know that we have an administration that is actively attacking us," Montoya told Phoenix New Times after her plane landed. "It is terrifying to know that everything that you have built —with a lot of sacrafices of you parents — can be taken away. Knowing that I might not be able to see my friends or where I grew up and the home I know ... there's a lot of anxiety there."

Montoya, the founder of the youth-led immigrant rights group Aliento, said she'd be focusing her energy on educating local DACA recipients like her in the next few days, helping them understand their rights after the brutal news. She wants to spread the message that these immigrants can still contributing to society — even if the current administratoin doesn't want to aknowlege it.

"This is our community,"  said Monoya, founder of the youth-led immigrant rights group Aliento. "We are your coworkers, we are your teachers, we are your students, we are your labor unions, we are part of this Arizona. ... The question is for the American public — if we're conscious people — are you going to stay in the shadows? Are you going to remain silent? Or are you gonna stand with children and families in making sure that we don't let this injustice happen?"

Montoya, now 26, came to America when she was 13. She told Phoenix New Times last week that if DACA was revoked and she was deported, she could be ripped away from the life she's known since she was young.

"I haven't been to Mexico in a long time, so if they were to decide to end the program, they can knock on my door and take me to a land that I don't know — that I was escaping the violence [in], 'cause my dad was kidnapped."

And many DACA recipients are in Montoya's shoes. They grew up in the U.S., and are "American in all but paperwork" as the program's advocates often contend. Although immigrants are eligible for DACA if they came to the U.S. under the age of 16, a recent study from a left-leaning Center for American Progress found the average age the 3,063 DACA recipients surveyed said they'd arrived in the U.S. was 6-1/2 years old.

It's been five years since former President Barack Obama offered young unauthorized immigrants protection from deportation and work authorization by creating the deferred action program. At its core, DACA was a political appeasement to help young immigrants whose parents brought them along to the U.S. apply for conditional residency as versions upon versions of DREAM Act legislation stalled in Congress.

The original DREAM Act — Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — legislation was first introduced in 2001. It aimed to give undocumented children a path to citizenship.

But as politicians remained divided on the legislation, Obama took matters into his own hands. In 2012, he used an executive order to provide some relief. But only a number of Dreamers were eligible. Aside from age requirements, DACA recipients had to be in school, graduated, or have obtained some kind of completion certificate if they weren't a veteran or service member. They also couldn't have any serious crimes on their record.

But many conservatives contend that DACA and the manner in which it was created is unconstitutional.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other conservative attorneys general have been putting increasing pressure on Trump to end the deferred action program. They say if the president doesn’t act to scrap it by Tuesday, they'll box the administration into a corner by amending a complaint in a lawsuit Texas won against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to include DACA. Arizona declined to sign off on this plan.

Though Trump talked like an immigration hardliner during his campaign, he's been on the metaphorical fence on DACA (not to be confused with the border wall).

When he ran for president, he vowed to terminate the Obama-era program, but after his inauguration, he appeared to soften on the issue. He promised to handle DACA "with heart" at a February news conference, and said in an April interview that Dreamers should "rest easy," the Associated Press reported at the time.

But with Sunday's news, he seems to have picked a team, although the White House cautioned that nothing is certain until the announcement Tuesday.

Arizonans assumed the end of DACA was looming. In the days leading up to the president's announcement, local people expressed their concerns about the future of DACA in a variety of ways.

On Friday morning all Phoenix Union schools showed support for DACA students with a "moment of peace and unity."

Seth Beute, the principal of Phoenix Coding Academy, said this was "in response to political and civil unrest in the country."

"There's been a lot of uncertainty — it's hitting us really closely because now it's something that our students are dealing with," Beute said. "Politics are on the kids' minds — they want to talk about it, but they don't get a lot of opportunities."

Stephanie Parra, a Phoenix Union schools board member and the government relations director for the Arizona Education Association, said that any changes to DACA "would definitely impact our students."

"Last Friday was an indication for us to do something, to take a stand in response to Trump's visit and all the division across the country," Parra said. "We want our students to know that we'll do everything we can to protect them. With the threat of DACA ending, we want to demonstrate that we're going to be here for them. Right now we're living in a time where there's so much uncertainty."

A sample of reactions from other local leaders:

Arizona State University President Michael Crow issued a statement Sunday that "DACA students at ASU are young adults who have graduated from an Arizona high school who meet our admission requirements. We are mandated to educate all Arizona students at a cost as close to free as possible. We do this.

"In fact,  he added, "a close read of history, and the Arizona constitution, shows Arizona’s founders clearly intended that we just get everybody educated. This is in fact what we intend to do. We are going to educate students from Arizona and in doing so we will follow the law, however that is expressed. We will at the same time, within the law, do everything we possibly can do to help young people move their lives forward — regardless of the circumstances that brought them to this country."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton released a statement on Thursday in response to the president's imminent announcement about DACA.

“If President Trump ends the DACA program, it would put 30,000 young women and men in Arizona at risk of deportation — students, neighbors, friends, brothers, and sisters who have no criminal records, who are building lives and bright futures here, and making our community stronger. Deporting these young men and women would destroy families and cost our economy billions.”

U.S. Representative Martha McSally led a group of lawmakers to write a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan asking that the House take up legislation addressing the future of DACA. In the letter, McSally expressed disagreement with Obama's move to use an executive order to create DACA, and asked that Congress be in control of the future of the program, not Trump.

“These individuals’ status in the United States should not be left to the political winds of different administrations that come to power,” the letter to Ryan states.
Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema denounced the idea of ending DACA, noting it could hurt Arizona and the Dreamers who've "graduated from our schools, are contributing to our economy, and are enlisting in our military to serve our nation."

But Montoya says the issue should transcend politics.

"This is not about politics," Montoya said. "This is not about Democrats or Republicans, it's about real people who are suffering the consequences of not having an immigration status."

Antonia Noori Farzan and Sean Holstege contributed to this report.