Local officials and civil liberties groups in Massachusetts swiftly denounced the Trump administration’s announcement Tuesday that it plans to phase out the DACA program that has protected certain young immigrants from deportation since June 2012.
Attorney General Maura Healey offered pointed criticism of the phaseout of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program during an early-afternoon briefing, after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s plan in the morning.
Healey said Sessions was dishonest in his remarks, and she called the decision to rescind the program “shameful.”
“Dreamers are Americans,” Healey said. “They may not be citizens, but they sure are Americans.” Addressing so-called dreamers who have been helped by the program directly, Healey said, “No matter what, no matter where you are, we are not going to turn our backs on you.”
She was joined during the news conference by US Senator Ed Markey and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Markey, a Malden Democrat, likened President Trump to a scriptural villain during his remarks.
“Trump is no better than Pontius Pilate in having Jeff Sessions make the announcement today,” Markey said. ““This decision from the Trump administration will not stand. We will not let it.”
Walsh said the White House decision would usher in “a time of fear for many” and said many Boston Public Schools valedictorians have been helped by DACA. He urged people affected by Tuesday’s decision to call 311 with any concerns and said of the Trump administration, “we don’t want you here in Boston.”
“Many of these dreamers are just as American as Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump,” Walsh said.
One such dreamer, Harvard graduate Diana Ortiz, enrolled in the DACA program after her mother brought her to the US from Mexico nearly 20 years ago.
“We are Americans by heart even if we aren’t Americans by law,” Ortiz said.
Another speaker at the news conference, Eva Milona of the MIRA Coalition, a local immigrant rights group, said her organization is imploring the president to push for a Dream Act in Congress.
“Our hearts ache for our dreamers today,” Milona said.
Additional officeholders in the state had registered their disapproval prior to the briefing.
Governor Charlie Baker said the president made “the wrong decision today that could negatively impact our economy and many of the Commonwealth’s families.”
“I hope Congress acts quickly to find a bipartisan, permanent solution to maintain the protections” of DACA, he added.
And Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, whose city has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants in the state, lamented what he said was an effort to “destabilize the lives of over 800,000 people who are productive members of our society and who contribute in many positive ways to the US economy and society. The President’s action brings disorder to a small section of federal immigration law that was actually organized and effective.”
Their comments were echoed by Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
“With today’s announcement, the Trump administration has only ratcheted up to a new level of stress the lives of the 800,000 people who have been living legally in the United States and contributing to their communities,” Rose said in a statement, adding that the White House has “again chosen cruelty over compassion.”
Rose added that thousands of dreamers in Massachusetts “use their DACA status to give back to our communities in innumerable ways. Massachusetts has a lot to lose from ending DACA, including more than $606 million in benefits to our local economy. Moreover, Massachusetts will also see nearly 8,000 hardworking young people put at risk — our loved ones and neighbors who live, study and work here.”
She called on Massachusetts officials to advocate on behalf of those affected by Tuesday’s announcement.
“We remain deeply committed to fighting the worst excesses of the Trump administration and to protecting freedoms of all Massachusetts residents by challenging any actions we believe to be illegal, unconstitutional and dangerous,” Rose said. “The ACLU and coalition partners are exploring all measures to defend the rights of Dreamers to live and work in the country that’s their home.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, another vocal critic of the plan to end DACA, called on Congress to make its protections permanent, in a series of fiery tweets after Sessions’ news conference.
“Subjecting Dreamers to mass deportation is part of the bigoted policies that are a cornerstone of @realDonaldTrump’s admin,” Warren wrote, adding the hashtag #DefendDACA. “Turning our backs on Dreamers makes us weaker, makes us less safe, & betrays our values.”
She continued, “America should keep its promises. If @realDonaldTrump doesn’t know that, then Congress must act to make DACA permanent. . . . We cannot sit back while our family, friends & neighbors are driven out of their homes. We must fight to protect Dreamers & #DefendDACA.”
US Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, also condemned the administration in a strongly worded statement.
“Trump’s morally bankrupt decision to rip young people from their families, their schools, and the only home they’ve ever known is a sad betrayal of American values,” Clark said. “DREAMers have stepped up to serve their country through academic success, military service, and a commitment to improving their communities. Their shot at the American Dream is integral to our country’s economic success.”
She said Congress should “act immediately” to protect the Dreamers.
US Representative Seth Moulton said rescinding DACA is “cruel and unusual” and “clearly motivated purely by anti-immigrant political pandering.”
Moulton, like Clark, called for congressional action in a statement.
“We should be working together, the president and Congress, Democrats, and Republicans, on comprehensive immigration reform that includes improved border security and an earned path to citizenship for those who are already part of our communities,” he said. “I condemn any attempt to repeal DACA and will fight to protect it.”
The Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice also joined the chorus of local critics ahead of two planned rallies.
“Beneficiaries of DACA, known as Dreamers, came to the United States as children and grew up here becoming integral members of our society,” the committee said in a statement. “Deporting Dreamers would send them back to countries to which they have little or no connection and subject them in many cases to intense violence or poverty present in some of those countries.”
Leaders in academia also weighed in, including Harvard president Drew Faust.
“As a University community dedicated to inclusion and to the promise of creative minds, and as a nation founded on the ideals of equality and opportunity, it is our responsibility to defend their ability to develop and share their talents in their home communities, in our country, and with the world,” Faust said in a statement.
Immigration advocates are planning a rally at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Boston to speak out against the Trump administration’s plan. Students are planning to rally at Harvard at the same time.