California Leaders Mobilized After DACA Protections Rescinded

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Immigrants and supporters rally after President Trump ordered an end to DACA on September 5, 2017 in Los Angeles. The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects young immigrants who grew up in the U.S. after arriving with their undocumented parents from deportation to a foreign country. The executive order by the president removes protection for about 800,000 current "dreamers'", about 200,000 of whom live in Southern California. Congress has the option to replace the policy with legislation before DACA expires on March 5, 2018. (David McNew/Getty Images)

California's attorney general and other state political and business leaders -- along with throngs of immigrant rights activists -- responded swiftly and angrily to the announcement Tuesday morning by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, is being rescinded.

At a press conference in Sacramento early Tuesday afternoon, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he is ready to sue the federal government for ending DACA, joining New York and Washington state leaders, who have made similar threats.

Becerra said the Trump administration's move could violate the due process of immigrants who paid fees to enter the program.

"They have done everything that was asked of them," he said. "It puts in jeopardy all those individuals who relied on the representation of their federal government.”

The DACA program, created by then-President Obama by executive action in June 2012, provided temporary protection from deportation -- along with a work permit -- to unauthorized immigrants under 31 who came to the United States as children. Deferred action was granted for renewable two-year periods. More than 787,000 people had obtained DACA as of June, with more than one in four of them -- 223,000 -- in California.


Sessions called DACA "a unilateral executive amnesty" that he considers unconstitutional. 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 type of overreach."

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement on its website explaining that new DACA applications received as of Tuesday would be processed, along with renewals requested by Oct. 5. It will not revoke current DACA benefits en masse, but reserved the authority to terminate DACA for individuals “for any reason, at any time.”

'In Pain for Our Communities'

Mayors of several major California cities sprang to the defense of DACA recipients. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo all spoke to gatherings outside their respective city halls.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (left) and other leaders join DACA DREAMers for noon rally in downtown Los Angels on Sept. 5, 2017. (Steven Cuevas/KQED)

San Diego's Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted, "We are not going to fix our immigration problems on the backs of innocent children."

DACA recipients rallied across the state Tuesday. UC Santa Cruz graduate Shaila Ramos showed up at a Tuesday morning protest in San Jose.

"I'm in pain for our communities," said Ramos, who is a DACA recipient. "My heart hurts because so many of us are unsure of what’s going to happen within the next six months."

Oakland resident Kitzia Esteva, 30, said her DACA work permit allows her to help support her family, including a nephew with leukemia.

"Without DACA [we] are not going to be able to work," Esteva said. "A lot of us are going to be facing job insecurity. This puts us in a really vulnerable position."

Not everyone who spoke out was opposed to the Trump administration's move.

Legal Headache, Public Heartache

Orange County Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher applauded the termination of DACA, which he called President Obama's "legal headache" and "public heartache."

"However much we may sympathize with the hundreds of thousands of these children, many of whom have reached adulthood and have become 'Americanized,' we in Congress must work to prevent such cynical loopholes from being created again by executive fiat," Rohrabacher said in a statement. "Those loopholes, make no mistake, incentivized the dangerous journeys of these families across our border."

In San Francisco, Gonzalo Ferrer, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said his organization agrees with the objectives of DACA, but not with the way it was created.

"What we were concerned about was that it was not legally valid, that it was unconstitutional," he told KQED in an interview. "We wanted to pass a bill and not [do it] by presidential decree, because the way that Obama implemented it was an overreach of presidential powers."

DACA "Dreamers" and supporters march in downtown L.A. early on Sept. 5, 2017. (Steven Cuevas/KQED )

Leaders of public and private universities across the state spoke out in favor of their DACA recipients and other undocumented students, who they have gone to lengths to support and protect in recent years.

A wide array of California businesses also condemned the administration's move, including many that employ DACA recipients. Many, including Wells Fargo, Salesforce, Apple, Kaiser Permanente and others, signed on to an open letter to President Trump last week urging him to preserve DACA. Now many of them are urging Congress to pass legislation to provide unauthorized immigrants who grew up in this country with permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.

Leaders on both the left and the right called on Congress to resolve the fate of the "Dreamers," as DACA-eligible young people are often known -- after the DREAM Act, a legalization bill that was first introduced in Congress in 2001.

Rohrabacher, who has consistently opposed granting legal status to Dreamers or other immigrants who are in the country illegally, said, "It is now up to Congress, and we must face the issue squarely and fearlessly."

Congress has taken up the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and similar bills repeatedly over the past 16 years, both as stand-alone legislation and as part of so-called comprehensive immigration reform bills. The measures have had bipartisan support but never garnered enough Republican backing to pass.

Hopes for Bipartisan Action

This year, two versions of legalization bills have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate: the DREAM Act of 2017, co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and a slightly more restrictive measure, the Recognizing America's Children (or RAC) Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fl.) and backed by Central Valley Republican Reps. Jeff Denham and Rep. David Valadao.

Both bills would require applicants to have arrived in the United States as children, have lived here for several years and to have no criminal record -- in order to qualify for conditional legal status. After several years with this provisional status, applicants could become eligible for permanent legal residence (a "green card") if they are working toward a college degree, serve in the military or remain continuously employed for three or four years (depending on the bill).

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington D.C., estimates that 1.8 million people would be immediately eligible for conditional legal status under the DREAM Act, and 1.1 million under the RAC Act.

In an interview with KQED Tuesday, San Jose Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren said she was hopeful for a bipartisan effort at legalizing DACA recipients and other undocumented young people who came of age in the U.S.

“Really we should do a complete top-to-bottom reform," she said. "But at least we ought to keep from deporting nearly 800,000 overachievers called Dreamers. I mean, really, that is unconscionable.”

Denham told KQED he wants to tie the RAC Act or a similar measure to a bill funding border security, which Congress is likely to take up this fall. Such a plan might ensure that legalizing Dreamers comes to a vote, but the connection to funding President Trump's proposed border wall could be unpalatable to many Democrats.

Meanwhile, Congress is confronted with several other pressing concerns, including Hurricane Harvey flood relief, and raising the federal debt limit, before it is likely to take up an immigration measure.

How much urgency members feel to take it on may depend on how much grassroots pressure they get from their districts, for or against a bill to give legal status to Dreamers.

In Southern California, the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles was planning protests outside the offices of several Republican members of Congress Tuesday evening, urging them to vote for the DREAM Act or risk the wrath of pro-immigrant voters in 2018.

KQED reporters Farida Jhabvala Romero, Tonya Mosely, Guy Marzorati, Devin Katayama, Steven Cuevas and Julie Small contributed to this story.