By CONNER HOYT, ANGELA JACOB, J.F. MEILS, JOHNNY MOSEMAN, HELEN PARSHALL, ASHLEY CLARKE and CHANGEZ ALI
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON — Maryland’s congressional Democrats and various immigrant rights groups condemned the Trump administration’s decision Tuesday to rescind an order protecting immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally.
Lawmakers said removing protections for such immigrants would disrupt families and be cruel to those who were not to blame for their illegal status.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision only blocks away, a crowd of a couple hundred protesters backing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program assembled at LaFayette Park and yelled “Shame!” in the direction of the White House while beating drums.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the announcement signaled a “dark day in our nation’s history” and implored Congress to pass legislation to make DACA permanent sometime this month.
“I know DACA kids, I’ve actually volunteered to do applications for them,” said Priscilla Labovitz, a Takoma Park, Maryland, resident. “I was an immigration lawyer, but I retired, so I know them as human beings, as nice kids, not in some lumped up way of ‘illegals’ because nobody is illegal.”
Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith and Public Life, a network of 40,000 religious leaders across the country, said the decision to revoke DACA goes against the major principles she believes in as a Christian.
“It’s morally despicable. I stood out there today with young people who are mourning, who are weeping,” Butler said.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” she added. “Clergy are planning even now to take these folks into their houses and into their sanctuaries. We don’t believe in this, and we are going to oppose it every step of the way.”
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, was the lone congressional voice from Maryland who came out in favor of the DACA wind-down. “I strongly support President (Donald) Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy,” he said in a statement. “The Obama-era policy is a gross overreach of executive power and undermined the authority of the legislative branch. President Trump is returning that power to Congress.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, had the opposite reaction. “Clearly written with little thought of the human consequences, this latest action by the Trump Administration will harm our economic and national security,” Cardin said. “It will break families and drive many underground, out of work and into poverty.”
Maryland’s other Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, warned of the economic impact of repealing DACA.
“Over its five-year history, DACA has helped nearly 800,000 young people pursue higher education and grow our economy,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Ending this program will cost our economy over $460.3 billion over ten years and displace over 685,000 workers vital to businesses in Maryland and across the nation.”
Roughly 9,000 Marylanders are beneficiaries of DACA, and according to Sessions’ announcement, they will remain so for the next six months, as the administration plans to use an interim period to usher out the order’s recipients.
However, any DACA requests filed after Tuesday will be rejected, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Filings for renewal for current recipients will be accepted until Oct. 5.
Sessions announced the administration’s decision to a roomful of reporters but took no questions. Trump issued a statement following the announcement.
Ending the DACA program would leave roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants subject to deportation.
A 2012 executive order by President Obama allowed people who came to the United States as children to apply for deferred action for two years at a time. Once the deferred action expired, recipients could apply for renewal.
Recipients had to have been at least 15 and under 31 as of June 15, 2012. An applicant convicted of a felony or at least three misdemeanors was ineligible.
Trump has advocated for DACA’s end since his presidential campaign and, after the seeming inevitability of its termination came to a head this weekend, urged Congress via Twitter to “get ready to do (its) job.”
“Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers and prevents human suffering,” said Sessions, who three times referred to DACA recipients as “illegal aliens.”
“Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism,” the attorney general said.
But a wide array organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and the United States Chamber of Commerce to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and California Gov. Jerry Brown, decried the administration’s move. Some pledged court challenges.
In Lafayette Park across from the White House, protesters said they were dismayed at what felt like a betrayal.
“I served in the United States military, and this is not the type of freedom I served for,” said Jaime Contreras, a vice president at 32BJ SEIU, the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, told Capital News Service.
“It doesn’t make any sense economically or socially in any form.”
Additional protesters marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, sitting down and blocking traffic just outside the Trump International Hotel.
Sheridan Aguirre, a DACA beneficiary, called the decision to strike down the executive order “cruel.”
“We have had five years now being able to live authentically as ourselves, and it’s been a cornerstone of safety for our immediate families,” he said in an interview with CNS. “We need to heal, we need to come together to talk about what’s happening, and in the long term be able to fight for a permanent solution.”
Aguirre is a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Austin, Texas, who said his life’s direction was uncertain before DACA. He graduated high school in Texas in June of 2012, days before DACA was announced.
After DACA was implemented, Aguirre, then 19, became the first person in his family to get a driver’s license.
Bobbie Monahan came into the city from Baltimore with other members of her Catholic parish, St. Gabriel, Woodlawn, to support the work of CASA.
“It is a great injustice, and my faith tells me to be here,” said Monahan. “If the heads of my church aren’t moving fast enough, then we’ll get out there and show them.”
Hoyer said he would like to see DACA passed and take effect permanently.
“We will see whether or not the statements of both sympathy and support for Dreamers (by Republicans) are in fact carried out legislatively or whether or not the most strident voices within the Republican Party fomenting anger and ire directing (sic) at these young people are followed,” he said. “Hopefully they will not be.”
Hoyer would not commit to the idea of using would-be Democratic votes for upcoming bills on Hurricane Harvey relief, the debt ceiling, or a continuing budget resolution as leverage to force passage of DACA legislation.
In the meantime, Hoyer believes that DACA would pass right now if it was introduced in the House.
“I frankly think the votes are there,” he said. ‘Will there be controversy? There will because there are some people who don’t want to see anybody admitted to the U.S. and particularly anybody who came here unauthorized.”
In 2015, Hoyer signed an amicus brief along with 180 other House members including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, John Delaney, D-Potomac, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, supporting Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and DACA.
“President Trump is breaking his promise to hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who were brought here as children – through no fault of their own – and today know only America as their home,” Cummings said in a statement. “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see and eliminating DACA sends a terrible message.”