WASHINGTON – Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday responded his successor’s decision to rescind an immigration order shielding some children of undocumented immigrants from deportation, calling the move “cruel” and “self-defeating.”
“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama wrote in a post on Facebook hours after the decision was announced by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It is self-defeating — because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel.”
The lengthy statement is among Obama’s most forceful since departing office. He sharply criticized Trump’s motives and insisted rescinding the program — called DACA — was not legally required.
“It’s a political decision, and a moral question,” Obama wrote. “Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden also criticized Trump’s move.
“Brought by parents, these children had no choice in coming here. Now they’ll be sent to countries they’ve never known. Cruel. Not America,” Biden tweeted.
Promised to speak out
Just before leaving office in January, Obama told reporters during a news conference that he would speak out sparingly in his post-presidency. But he said revoking DACA was among the actions that would prompt him to weigh in.
“The notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids, when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out,” Obama said at the time.
DACA amounts to Obama’s chief legacy item on immigration, though it’s far reduced from the vision for major changes that he entered office promising.
During his first years in office, Obama focused heavily on repairing a damaged economy. Instead of immigration, he chose health care as his first major legislative push.
He approved the program in 2012 after unsuccessful efforts in Congress to pass a measure that would allow children of undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally to avoid deportation.
During most of his first term, Obama insisted that taking action unilaterally to spare DACA recipients from deportation wasn’t possible. Instead, he said it was up to Congress to craft a solution.
But after legislative efforts failed, Obama asked his attorney general and other administration lawyers to reassess his options for taking executive action. His administration argued that circumstances had changed after Congress was unable to pass legislation.
Months before his re-election, he announced in the Rose Garden that he was taking action on his own, though qualified his move as a short-term fix.
“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said. “This is a temporary stopgap measure.”
His decision ignited controversy and legal challenges, though polls show a large majority of Americans support measures that would allow people who came to the country illegally as children to remain.
Obama’s Entire Statement:
Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules.
But that’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license.
Over the years, politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people – our young people – that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship. And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill.
That bill never came. And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm. Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result.
But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?
Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.
It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future. I’m heartened by those who’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel.
Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.
What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.