The Trump administration said today it plans to phase out the Obama-era program that protects from deportation people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
But in an announcement this morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Congress could officially authorize the program known as DACA before it expires in March.
The policy gives undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers" a work permit and legal residence for two years at a time. Roughly 800,000 young immigrants are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. More than 120,000 Texans have applied for coverage.
New requests and applications will not be accepted, the administration said, but existing work permits will continue to be honored and applications already in the pipeline will be processed.
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the Trump administration "feckless" and accused the president of acting on "tainted and biased 'legal' advice."
"The Congress must act to take the long-overdue legislative steps necessary to protect a national asset – millions of home-grown, educated, and courageous young people ready to continue to build our economy and community. Congressional failure to act is not an acceptable outcome politically or morally," he said. Texas and other states that maintained their "disingenuous threat to sue must also be held accountable for their despicable role in this body blow to the nation.”
"Ending DACA won’t only affect families and communities, and hurt our economy; it is a direct attack on the American Dream and on our Texas values, and we will not give up this fight,” said Oscar Silva, political director of Battleground Texas, a grassroots political organization.
President Trump defended the decision to end DACA, saying he is giving Congress a "window of opportunity" to act.
"Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first," he said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had urged the administration to phase out the policy, applauded the decision.
"As the Texas-led coalition explained in our June letter, the Obama-era program went far beyond the executive branch’s legitimate authority,” he said in a statement.
Paxton was referring to a letter he and nine other attorneys general sent the administration in June requesting a decision on DACA by Sept. 5. They threatened to take legal action if the administration didn't act.
“DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress,” the letter said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Congress must act now.
"It would be shameful to deport children from the only home they’ve known, especially as Mexico leaps to assist with the Harvey relief effort and our City proudly offers shelter to all who need it," he said. "DACA was our country at its best."
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said ending DACA will instill fear in immigrants.
"As a city, we will fund immigrant legal defense services and we will refuse to let our police become deportation agents," he said. "We will fight to keep dreamers in their jobs and in their schools."
"[Paxton] is really going to be disenfranchising some of his most loyal and productive young people across the state," Caitlin Boehne, attorney and co-director of the DACA and Immigration Justice project at the Equal Justice Center, said before the administration announced its decision.