Barack Obama has condemned Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the programme protecting young undocumented immigrants in the US as “contrary to our spirit, and to common sense”.
In a rare attack by a former President on their successor, Obama said the decision to dismantle his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals scheme, or DACA, was “cruel” and lacked “basic decency”.
On Tuesday, Trump announced he would get rid the the programme in six months.
Unless Congress steps in, it could put nearly 800,000 undocumented young people at risk of deportation and unable to work legally when their two-year permits expire.
Most of those affected came to the US as children, brought to the country by their parents at an age when they would have been completely unaware of the consequences.
In a statement, Obama said:
“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. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people ― and who we want to be.”
Obama started the programme in 2012 and urged undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children to come forward to the government, pay a fee and undergo a background check before receiving a two-year work permit and reprieve from deportation.
He did so after legislative efforts to help so-called Dreamers failed multiple times, as he noted in his statement.
″[B]ecause it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country.”
In his final press conference as president, Obama said he would speak out if Trump targeted Dreamers “who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else when they love this country; they are our kids’ friends and their classmates, and are now entering into community colleges or, in some cases, serving in our military”.
“The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves I think would be something that would merit me speaking out,” Obama said at the time.
“This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated.” Barack Obama
By ending DACA, Trump dismantled one of Obama’s most significant immigration policy achievements.
Trump already dramatically reshaped immigration enforcement from how it was under Obama, who began his presidency with record deportation numbers before changing enforcement priorities to focus on certain undocumented immigrants over others.
Trump immediately eliminated those priorities as president and has detained and deported people whom Obama allowed to remain in the country if they checked in with the government or met other requirements.
Trump said that Congress should act on Dreamers, although his statements were vague and the only legislation he mentioned specifically during his statement on DACA focused on limiting legal immigration, not actually undocumented immigrants.
Obama said it was time for Congress to act as well.
“Now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future,” Obama said. “I’m heartened by those who’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel.”