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WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama criticized his successor Tuesday for rescinding an immigration program that protects some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation, calling the decision "cruel."
Preserving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is "about basic decency," Obama said, defending his signiature action in one of his few public statements since President Donald Trump took office.
“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,” Obama said. “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?”
The president authorized DACA in June 2012 to protect so-called “Dreamers,” children under the age of 16 without serious criminal histories who were brought to the United States before 2007. The program allows eligible young people to seek DACA protection for renewable two-year periods. Immigration hardliners have argued the executive action was unconstitutional, and Trump pledged to undo the program during his 2016 campaign.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s plan Tuesday morning, giving Congress six months to possibly save the policy as well as make changes to the nation's immigration laws “through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation.”
Obama has largely stayed out of sight during Trump’s presidency, weighing in only on major issues like health care and with tweets indirectly referring to Trump. However, the former president signaled ahead of Trump’s decision that he would respond if the future of DACA was threatened. His statement Tuesday was his most expansive since leaving the White House.
“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,” Obama said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden weighed in with his own statement shortly after, saying it would be "inhumane" to expel Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known.
"Congress and the American people now have an obligation to step up and show our neighbors that they're welcome here, in the only place they've ever called home," Biden said.