MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation and the state’s Republican governor are condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama-era program that protects young immigrants from deportation, and hoping Congress will act to keep them in the U.S.
The program was created through an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama in 2012. Until Tuesday, Trump went back and forth as a candidate and then as president on whether he would continue the program.
The policy change initiated by Trump means that nearly 800,000 young immigrants who have been allowed to remain in the U.S. under the program, including 42 Vermonters, could face deportation after March 5, 2018.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Trump “has revealed he is as heartless as he is uninformed.”
“We live in an unprecedented time when our president seeks to divide us, not to unite us,” Leahy said in a statement. “He rallies his dwindling supporters by exploiting fear and resentment, marginalizing those who are vulnerable and even those who risk their lives for our country and communities. It is shameful and far beneath the office he holds,” Leahy said in a statement.
The immigrants Trump is targeting, Leahy said, are “yet another exemplary group of individuals who enrich the fabric of our society.”
“They are our friends and our neighbors. They serve our country in our armed forces and first responders, they contribute to our schools and universities, and they work and serve in our communities,” his statement said. “DREAMers, by definition, came to the United States at no fault of their own as children. They have since played by our country’s rules and seek only the chance to contribute to America — their home, and often the only country they remember.”
Leahy called on Republicans to work with Democrats to protect immigrants who took advantage of the DACA program from being deported.
“Republicans control both the Senate and the House. Some have already spoken out against the president’s decision to abandon DACA,” Leahy said. “But their words ring hollow if they are not ready to act upon them. Democrats stand ready to protect DACA recipients and to fix our broken immigration system.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a telephone interview Tuesday that a legislative solution may be possible. He said many of his Republican colleagues “who have taken a harsh attitude on immigration are facing a harsh reality that going after the Dreamers is going overboard.”
Welch also ripped into Trump’s decision to remove the legal status granted to young immigrants under DACA.
“The notion that President Trump would ever consider jeopardizing the status of the Dreamers is outrageous. It’s cruel. It’s astonishing,” he said. “Why the president thinks there’s any valid reason to essentially target these people who are Americans in every way except on paper is mystifying, but it’s also cruel and he should not do it.”
In a series of Twitter posts over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., castigated Trump for threatening to end the program.
“If Trump decides to end DACA, it will be one of the ugliest and cruelest decisions ever made by a president in our modern history,” Sanders wrote in a tweet.
“Taking legal protections away from 800,000 young people raised in this country is absolutely counter to what we stand for as a nation,” he wrote in another.
Sanders also said “Congress must act immediately” to restore the DACA program. He reiterated his call for congressional action Tuesday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy change.
“America is strongest when we come together and reject xenophobia. Congress must permanently protect Dreamers and reject Trump’s bigotry,” Sanders wrote.
Gov. Phil Scott, who has not shied away from criticizing the president, a fellow Republican, particularly on immigration issues, said it is “unfortunate” that Trump has chosen to end DACA.
“The young people who will be affected have known no other home than the U.S., and DACA has given many of them important academic opportunities that further their ability to contribute to our communities, and our nation,” Scott said in a statement. “Immigrants have historically had a very positive impact in our country, and in Vermont, and their contributions continue today.”
Scott said he hopes Congress will pass legislation to continue the policy. It will provide “long term benefits to American culture, the economy and the prosperity of our country,” he said.