After President Donald Trump announced Tuesday (Sept. 5) his decision to move to end the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program, reaction from Arkansas officials ranged from concern about the almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers,” to blaming former President Barack Obama for the political predicament.
President Trump said in rescinding DACA that it was his “highest duty to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America.” He also tied the program to the controversial MS-13 gang – the international gang he has blamed for a wave of violence across the U.S.
“There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will,” Trump said in a statement. “The temporary implementation of DACA by the Obama Administration, after Congress repeatedly rejected this amnesty-first approach, also helped spur a humanitarian crisis – the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country, such as MS-13.”
President Trump’s executive order gives Congress six months to implement a new policy, or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will being winding down the DACA program. After that half-year period, all existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration up to two full years from today, but new applications will not be accepted.
“This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out,” the president said. “Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also targeted the Obama administration for implementing the DACA program in 2012, saying the former president’s executive order provided a legal status for 800,000 immigrants with a renewable two-year term, work authorization and other benefits, and participation in the Social Security program.
Almost as soon as President Trump and Sessions announced the DACA decision, a host of Arkansas politicians immediately offered statements that were either strongly guarded or did not stray from party-held talking points.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas’ senior Republican senator, blamed the Obama administration for overreaching its authority by unilaterally expanding the DACA program.
“I am pleased that President Trump is returning the power to Congress to restore the integrity of our nation’s immigration system. As Congress pursues immigration reform, I will push for legislative solutions to fix our broken immigration system, including the lengthy and burdensome legal immigration process,” Boozman said in a brief statement.
On the Hugh Hewitt radio show, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said providing DACA participants a path to citizenship creates two problems.
“One, we create a new opportunity for citizenship through chain migration for their parents, the very people who violated the law by bringing them here as children in the first place. And two, we encourage other people around the world to bring their children here illegally. So we have to do something to stop chain migration. My bill does that, and we have to do something to enhance enforcement. That’s a very simple, logically coherent legislative package. It’s not comprehensive reform. It’s not the Gang of 8 bill. It’s not trying to blow ocean. It’s trying to take the action that Democrats say they want, which is to give legal status to approximately three-quarters of a million of these people in their 20s and 30s while also mitigating the consequences of that action,” Cotton said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, was less than enthusiastic about the president’s announcement. The congressman’s district is home to the University of Arkansas, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and other corporate citizens who have expressed concerns that rescinding DACA would hurt Arkansas families and the economy as well.
“The issue of DACA-eligible young people is a manifestation of a broken immigration enforcement system. I have a heart for their plight. At the same time, I believe that part of the genius of America is that we are a nation of laws,” Womack said.
Jessica DeLoach, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, offered a statement from party chairman Michael John Gray that called President Trump’s decision “coldhearted.”
“Our Republican leaders need to stop rubber stamping a federal agenda that hurts the interests of our state. It’s time Governor Hutchinson stepped up to lead for Arkansas – not fall in line behind President Trump,” Gray said. “We must call on Governor Hutchinson as well as our representatives in Congress … to do their jobs and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform that protects these young people.”
Gray also said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had a hand in helping the president to end the Dreamers program, saying that some 100,000 young Arkansans are now at risk of deportation.
“It’s impractical as it is coldhearted,” said the newly-elected Democratic Party chair.
Rutledge proudly said she was part of a 10-state coalition of attorney generals that sent a letter to the Trump administration, voluntarily giving him until Sept. 5 to rescind the Obama era policy or face a federal lawsuit.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson also issued a statement in response to President Trump’s announcement.
“President Trump’s decision to rescind President Obama’s DACA executive order is a recognition of the constitutional limits of executive power,” Hutchinson said. “The issue is squarely back in the hands of Congress, and reform of our immigration laws is long overdue. I support the decision to institute a six-month delay to allow Congress time to develop a modern, workable solution on immigration that should include both a secure border and broader reforms.
“Our hearts go out to the children affected; their unique stories show they have a lot to add to the future of America. Congress should act quickly on this matter and hold hearings on reform legislation.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, supported Trump’s decision.
“No matter how compassionate its intent, President Obama’s creation of DACA was a clear violation of our separation of powers. As Attorney General Sessions said today, the Justice Department could not make a clear and compelling defense for an executive action that was outside the Constitutional authority granted to the President. Congress writes our nation’s laws and President Trump has tasked us with addressing this issue in coming months as he winds down the DACA program. It is my hope that we construct a fair and just legislative solution to this issue that affects many aspects of our society and many people who live here.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, also was in support of the president’s move.
“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created by an unconstitutional executive action, and President Trump correctly decided to rescind the program in favor of a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. While it isn’t fair that many young people were brought here through no fault of their own, granting illegal immigrants amnesty every few years also isn’t fair to the families who do immigrate legally. Any immigration reform policy Congress takes up must first strengthen border security and then address the illegal immigrants already here, to do otherwise would be treating a symptom instead of the root problem.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, responded positively to returning the decision-making to the legislative branch.
“Our immigration system is inflexible and outdated, but attempting to fix it through executive action was not the answer. The president’s actions mark a return of legislation authority – where it rightfully belongs – because we are a nation ‘of and by the people.’ My colleagues and I are committed to improving our broken immigration system compassionately and thoughtfully to ensure that those coming to our country can easily comply with our laws in order to pursue a bright and promising future.”
University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz issued a statement Sept. 1 explaining why he signed a letter of support for the DACA program. Steinmetz said DACA participants are “students who were brought to this country as children — through no fault of their own — and who have grown up in our state, attended our public schools and befriended our children, and have made contributions to our campuses, our economy and to our communities.”
Continuing, he noted: “Their attendance doesn’t take anything away from any other student — in fact, their presence enriches our community. We urge the continuation of federal and state laws and policies that support their ability to pursue higher education.”
As of Tuesday (Sept. 5), the letter had 647 signatures. The only other Arkansas chancellors to sign the list were Dr. Paul Beran, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and Steve Cole, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Cossatot.