Connecticut advocacy group heads down to D.C. to defend DACA program

NORWALK, Conn. (WTNH)– Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Tuesday morning the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals Act, also known as the “Dreamers” Act, will be “rescinded” by the Trump administration in six months. Sessions said the Obama administration policy was essentially unconstitutional.

“We are people of compassion, and we are people of law, but there was nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” Sessions said.

While Sessions was speaking, thousands of immigrants and their supporters rallied outside the White House to show their support for DACA, some of them from Connecticut.

Related: Trump’s decision on young immigrants could begin GOP battle

A bus left the Hartford area around 5 in the morning, then got to a park and ride lot in Norwalk around 6. It ended up carrying about 40 Connecticut “dreamers” to Washington D.C. Among them, Ziggy Sakalauskas, who came to the U.S. from Lithuania when he was just 5 years old.

“My home is here, I consider myself an American,” Sakalauskas said. “I consider myself to be a part of this country as much as anyone.”

Since they came, and stayed, without proper documents, they did not have the same legal status, however, no matter how smart they were.

“After I graduated college, I had a couple years where I couldn’t do anything because I was undocumented,” said Camila Bortoletto, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil. “I didn’t have legal status, I didn’t have working papers.”

That changed in 2012 when the Obama administration started the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It allowed more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants, brought here as children, to avoid deportation and work here legally. An estimated 10,000 people in Connecticut are covered under DACA.

Related: Immigrant group to rally in support of ‘Dreamers’ program

“This was basically my chance for a future in the United States, this was a huge hope for all of us so the fact that we’re in such a precarious situation right now is disconcerting,” said Sakalauskas.

Attorney General Sessions announced today the Dreamers Act will be rescinded in 6 months, saying President Obama went around Congress to create his own immigration policy.

“The policy was implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern,” Sessions said. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

Related: Trump expected to end program for young immigrants

For the Dreamers in Connecticut, going back to their native countries is not an attractive option. The alternative is to get congress to change the law, and that’s what they plan to do.

“I know a couple words in Lithuanian, so it will be quite an adjustment,” said Sakalauskas. “I think we need to just fight as much as we can to preserve what we have and to hope for a future in which we can hopefully carve out a path for ourselves.”

Sessions said President Obama went against the will of Congress with DACA, and President Trump is now setting that right. If the policy is to change back, it’s going to require congress to change the law. experts say many democrats and some republicans are in favor of that.

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty released the following statement condemning President Trump’s decision:

“The people that President Trump just turned his back on are hardworking young Americans who contribute to our economy, obey our laws, and give back to their communities. In many cases, they know no other country. For our government to invite these young people to come out of the shadows with the promise of protection only to rip that protection away for political expediency is un-American and indefensibly cruel. Nobody has ever claimed that DACA is a perfect solution. Temporary protection for hardworking young immigrants is no substitute for the comprehensive reform we need to fix our broken immigration system. But we gain nothing – economically or otherwise – by tossing away those protections without any plan for fixing the underlying problems in our immigration system. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and pass comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens our economy and creates an earned path to citizenship. The need for bipartisan action has just become even more urgent.”

Governor Dannel P. Malloy also released a statement that reads:

“President Trump’s wrong-minded decision to turn back the clock on DACA is completely nonsensical. From elementary and secondary education, to post-secondary education, to supports for vibrant, safe communities – we have invested so much into undocumented children who have grown up in America. Denying these youths with access to work opportunities and affordable higher education goes against the very core of who we are. The fact is, pushing these young, gifted individuals into the shadows not only diminishes their chance for a bright future, but it darkens ours, too. We know that our state stands to benefit from welcoming Dreamers, and their talents, to our communities and our workplaces. The rollback of DACA would be a disastrous mistake for not only Dreamers, but our entire nation. I urge Congress to act swiftly to reverse this misguided action and enact protections for the over 10,000 youth in Connecticut, and hundreds of thousands more across the country, who are now at risk through no fault of their own.”

Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman added:

“I strongly condemn President Trump’s action to rescind DACA. Dreamers throughout the nation, including those in Connecticut, are engaged in our communities, our economy, and our tax rolls. Purposefully tipping hundreds of thousands of residents into crisis is terrible policymaking, and tearing them from the only home they have ever known is just heartless. We are a nation proudly built by immigrants just like the Dreamers. Men and women who work hard and contribute, who are informed, and who love this nation. Given the opportunity, they will build a strong future and leave a bright legacy for us all.”

UConn President Susan Herbst said:

“The young people who are the beneficiaries of the DACA program were brought to the United States when they were children or teenagers. Today, students in the DACA program who are enrolled at UConn have proven themselves to be talented, hard-working and ambitious, which is how they gained admission and why they are succeeding academically. Like all of our graduates, after earning their degrees they can continue to lead positive, productive lives, contributing to our economy and our communities. Above all, these bright young people are striving to succeed. That sense of hope and opportunity represents the great promise of the United States and our higher education system. Today’s action would have us turn our backs on them. That is cruel, unjustified and ultimately self-defeating.”

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian released his statement below:

“The news today of the Trump Administration’s cancellation of the DACA program is heartbreaking and will have a devastating impact on some of the state’s best students. There are some 800,000 young men and women protected by DACA nationwide, many of them here in Connecticut. These DACA students were brought as children to the United States and for many of them, Connecticut is the only place they’ve called home. We are extremely proud of our students – they are doing everything we expect them to do as engaged young people pursuing their dreams of higher education. Many have double majors and all are working hard despite the day-to-day fear of knowing their families may be deported at any moment. The fundamental responsibility of a public education institution is to foster learning, innovation, and strong communities to any student willing to put in the work to learn and achieve. We have and will continue to fight for DACA students in our CSCU community. That is why we advocated fervently to our legislators in favor of allowing our Dreamers access to their own institutional aid, and one of our universities was selected to host DACA students from states where they could not attend higher education institutions. We stand with Connecticut’s DACA students and those across this country and urge Congress to finally take action to protect these young Americans.”

David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, also reacted to the announcement from the White House by saying:

“Five years ago, the federal government made a promise to immigrant youth: as long as you pass a criminal background check and meet other conditions, you get permission to live, study, and work here for renewable two-year periods. Hundreds of thousands of young people, including 8,000 here in Connecticut, came out of the shadows to accept the government’s offer in good faith and made plans for their American dreams. Today, the Trump administration broke America’s promise and injected chaos, uncertainty, and fear into the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and their families. Given that the United States government has repeatedly and successfully defended the legal validity of DACA, today’s news also amounts to a complete reversal of the United States’ own consistent legal positions. Now, the fate of 800,000 young adults who call this country their home lies in the hands of Congress. Lawmakers must decide if they are on the side of Dreamers and our country’s foundation or on the side of the ugly forces that helped to end DACA. Dreamers are our neighbors, colleagues, family members, and friends. We stand with Connecticut Students for a Dream and all Dreamers and their family members in our state. While this is a hard day for the immigrant community and America as a whole, we will continue to fight. The DACA program was the product of years of work from Dreamers. If they can be brave, so can we. It is up to all of us to show that no matter how hard the Trump administration works to send immigrants back into the shadows, the rest of us will fight for justice and equality.”

Attorney General George Jepsen issued the following statement on the Trump Administration’s announcement:

“I am disappointed in President Trump’s actions today. DACA is not only lawful, it is smart and compassionate public policy. My office is currently in communication with our partners in Connecticut state government as well as fellow attorneys general in other states, as we review the Trump Administration’s actions to determine what our response may be.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro released the following statement:

“The DACA program protects young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own,” said DeLauro. “Ending this program, as President Trump’s executive action does, is immoral. It goes against our nation’s values and our history of welcoming immigrants to our shores to make our country stronger. DACA is not a free ride, despite the heated rhetoric and misinformation surrounding this issue,” continued DeLauro. “There are many requirements to qualify, such as entering the U.S. before age 16, continuously living in the U.S. since 2007, not being convicted of felonies or significant misdemeanors, and finishing high school or serving in our armed forces. DREAMers have followed the rules, gone through the entire application process, and been approved to stay in our nation. We should not betray them by threatening their ability to learn, work, and live in this country. Congressional Republicans need to step up immediately and work with Democrats on legislation that permanently protects DREAMers.”

Congressman Joe Courtney’s statement reads:

“President Trump’s move to rescind DACA is a misguided attempt at punishing children for the actions of their parents. The president’s decision to remove temporary protection for DREAMers will lead to the indiscriminate deportation of some of the brightest and most talented students in our country. The vast majority of the people covered by DACA have lived in the United States since they were in grade school and have earned their place in this country the same way as any other American. As an original cosponsor of the American Hope Act that will codify DACA and protect these young people, I will work to reverse this harmful decision by the president. In addition to the moral questions posed by such a move, the president’s decision to rescind DACA will carry significant economic consequences for our country as well. Many estimates show that without the people currently covered by DACA our annual GDP would shrink by billion of dollars. These students are not ‘takers’ as some would portray them, but are in fact hard working people – many of them highly educated. Our nation’s employers have made their views loud and clear on this topic: we need these students in America’s workforce, not in handcuffs.”

Congressman Jim Himes said:

“Against the advice of American business leaders, Republican leadership, the opinions of the American public, and the crystal clear calls of conscience, President Trump today ended the DACA program. Of all of the President’s regular dalliances with mindlessness and heartlessness, this will do the most damage to hundreds of thousands of young lives and to our economy. The President pardons Sherriff Joe Arpaio, a national shame, while casting out Dreamers who wish to succeed as Americans. This is now a moment of truth for the Congress and its Republican leadership. It must act to right this wrong or give up any claim to moral standing or economic wisdom.”

Carlos Moreno, Interim State Director of Connecticut Working Families, released the following statement:

“The termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is Trump’s latest assault on immigrant and marginalized communities and American values. Now more than ever, we need all of Connecticut’s elected officials from the municipal to federal level to stand up to the white supremacist deportation machine that is currently directing our federal immigration system. By terminating DACA, the Trump administration has stripped over 800,000 young people across the country of their basic rights and security, making it harder for them to successfully work, contribute, and succeed in our communities. Beyond the limited relief from the constant threat of unjust deportation that the DACA program has provided nearly a million young people and their families, it has also allowed most recipients the ability to legally drive, work, and achieve higher education. In Connecticut, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 11,000 immigrant youth are able to safely and legally work and study because of DACA.1 The loss of this relief program is not only a human rights disaster, but also a kneecap to the development and diversification of Connecticut’s economy in a time when we need it most. Connecticut Working Families is calling on our state to do more to resist the criminalization and targeting of our immigrant neighbors. The many leaders of the immigrant community have demonstrated that they will remain resilient in resisting all attacks on their safety and dignity. Our elected officials must follow their lead. From enacting sanctuary policies in our towns and cities; to expanding the TRUST Act2 in the state legislature; to fighting for a pathway to citizenship and an end to deportations at the federal level, Connecticut must take the lead.”

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