When Jose Santoyo spoke at last year's SMU commencement he did it as a "dreamer." An undocumented immigrant brought to this country by his mother when he was 8 years old, he was able to go to college and graduate with degrees in Human Rights and Spanish because of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.
It was a joyous moment. But not so joyous today.
"Because of DACA we've been able to have better access to education, better jobs. And now that's all being taken away," he said in response to the announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the executive action by former President Obama is being rescinded.
"To have a lawful system of immigration, that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It's just that simple," Sessions said, calling the original order an "open-ended circumvention of immigration law through unconstitutional authority by the executive branch." Obama put the DACA program in place because Congress refused to act.
The announcement puts on hold a program that since enacted in 2012, has allowed for more than 800,000 "dreamers" to remain in the U.S. on two-year renewable work permits. As of Tuesday the Department of Homeland Security says it will no longer accept new DACA applications although those whose permits are due to expire by March of next year will be allowed to apply for two-year renewals, if they apply by October 5th.
Sessions called it a humane and compassionate way to unwind a program that President Obama put in place when Congress would not. The Trump Administration's decision puts the issue back in the hands of Congress with a loose deadline of 6-months to come up with a legislative solution.
Of the 800,000 immigrants under the DACA program an estimated 124,000 are in Texas. According to the Center for American Progress, DACA recipients contribute more than $6 billion to the Texas economy.
Groups like the Texas Organizing Project blasted the announcement.
Executive Director Michelle Tremillo said, "President Trump demonstrated that he doesn't have the big heart nor the very good brain that he has bragged about because his decision to end DACA is heartless and doesn't make sense in any way. Not only does DACA benefit its recipients by allowing them to work and join the American pursuit of happiness freely, but their contributions strengthen our economy and lives. We will continue fighting to protect our DACA neighbors and their families. All of our families deserve to have their humanity and dignity acknowledged and respected."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the Trump Administration decision while not making a specific pledge to the 6-month timeline for a legislative solution.
"President Obama wrongly believed he had the authority to re-write our immigration law. Today's action by President Trump corrects that fundamental mistake," McConnell said. "This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works."
"We need this administration to start putting out solutions along with the things they want to change," said Santoyo.
That solution, and the intensely debated political issue, now - once again - rests with Congress.
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