Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an important announcement Tuesday: “We are people of compassion and we are people of law, but there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration law.”
Donald Trump ceded to his attorney general the politically-explosive task of announcing that he’d rescinded the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] policy implemented by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. Sessions called DACA illegal, executive overreach. What does that mean for so-called “DREAMers?”
“This does not mean they’re bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them,” said Sessions.
Sessions announced DACA would “wind down” over the next six months. While he spoke, tears overcame New Jersey DREAMers at a news conference in New Brunswick. Twenty-three-year-old Alma Benevides has struggled to deal with her immigration status since she applied to college.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that due to my legal status, many of those schools would not accept me as a student,” said Benevides. “I came to the U.S. for the American Dream. And basically the American dream is done. What’s going to be next? I hope there is a solution, that we do get a path to citizenship because I’ve been doing everything right. And, there are millions like me out there who are doing everything right to be in this country and we consider the United States our home.”
Some 22,000 DREAMers live in New Jersey. Sessions argued they shouldn’t have been shielded by what he called the “Obama administration’s executive amnesty,” but by an act of Congress.
“Congress should carefully and thoughtfully pursue the types of reforms that are right for the American people,” said Sessions.
The president offered them the six-month reprieve to pass legislation, or, as he tweeted Tuesday morning, “Congress — get ready to do your job! DACA!”
“That is nonsense! I want to explain, that is total nonsense!” said Congressman Frank Pallone at a rally in New Brunswick held Tuesday.
New Jersey Democrats and immigrant advocates reacted with outrage.
“The president is rescinding this because he wants to rescind it. And he’s doing it for totally political reasons, to appeal to the right wing,” continued Pallone.
Pallone warned conservatives would not support immigration reforms.
“[I’m] co-sponsoring an amendment to block the administration from rescinding the program and sent a letter to the president urging him to defend DACA in the face of legal challenges,”said fellow New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
Among New Jersey Republicans to comment, Rep. Tom MacArthur, who opposed the end of DACA. “We need to fix our nation’s immigration system. But, starting this process by hurting the most innocent and vulnerable population would be wrong and misguided.”
Congressman Frank LoBiondo said, “… Young people who came to our nation through no fault of their own should not be punished for the illegal actions of adults. I will again support and vote for legislation that ensures a permanent solution for ‘dreamers’…”
For DREAMer Yeimi Hernandez of Freehold, she wants to attend college.
“We contribute to society in a good way. We’re not evil. We’re good. This is all that we know, is this country. We are warriors going into the storm,” she said.
President Obama issued a statement Tuesday which reads in part, “And for years, while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill. That bill never came. Let’s be clear: the action taken Tuesday isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question.” There’s now a bill in Congress that would grant high school graduates without a serious criminal record, and who don’t rely on public assistance, conditional immigration status. New Jersey Congressman Leonard Lance is co-sponsoring the Recognizing America’s Children Act. He talked to NJTV News from Washington, D.C. Thanks for being with us, Congressman Lance.
Lance: Thank you for having me, Brenda.
Flanagan: So first of all, what is your reaction to the president’s action Tuesday to rescind DACA?
Lance: I hope that Congress will take legislative action in this regard. These are fine young people — 800,000 — and I expect to pass legislation with others in this area. I think it’s the responsibility of Congress, Brenda, to engage in this legislative action.
Flanagan: Could you explain your legislation? Why does it stand any better chance of passage than legislation introduced, for example, in 2010, 2011?
Lance: The president has in fact set a deadline and there has been executive action in the past, but that has been questioned in the courts. The best way to proceed is to have the legislative branch of government, the Congress, pass legislation in this regard. The legislation sponsored by Congressman Curbelo of Southern Florida, and I am becoming a co-sponsor of that legislation, would say that young people aged 18 and older, if they’re in school or if they’re working or if they’re in the military, will have a path to legalization.
Flanagan: Now, what would you say to answer colleagues who charge this is amnesty?
Lance: It is not amnesty, it is earned naturalization. We want to make sure that the process is earned. It’s quite a lengthy process, but this does not occur overnight. It takes quite a few years and we want to make sure that young people are in higher education, are working or are in the military.
Flanagan: What would you say to New Jersey DREAMers now? All of their contact information is in the hands of the U.S. government. Many of them are afraid.
Lance: I would say that it’s the responsibility of those of us in Congress to make this situation right. We should do it legislatively and we now have a time frame because the of the president’s actions Tuesday. I hope that we can take legislative action. I hope we can do it in a bipartisan capacity. There’s also legislation that’s being discussed in the Senate by Sen. Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Durbin of Illinois, so I think we’re moving in the right direction of a bipartisan solution in this regard.
Flanagan: Congressman Leonard Lance, thank you so much for taking the time to join us.