Massachusetts political leaders vowed to try to protect young immigrants after the Trump administration announced that it was abolishing the federal policy that has shielded roughly 800,000 people from deportation.
In a chorus of indignation, local, state, and federal elected officials blasted President Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and promised to fight for young immigrants in the Legislature, the Congress, and the courts.
Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said Massachusetts and other states plan to sue the Trump administration to preserve the program. Those states may include California, New York, New Mexico, and Washington, she said.
“Dreamers are Americans,” Healey said, referring to young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. “They may not be citizens, but they sure are Americans.”
Addressing the beneficiaries of the program, Healey said, “No matter what, no matter where you are, we are not going to turn our backs on you.”
Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, said a defense bill coming up for debate in two weeks could be amended to protect immigrants who will lose their protection from deportation when the program is phased out in six months.
“This decision from the Trump administration will not stand,” he said. “We will not let it.”
It’s not clear, however, that the state of Massachusetts alone can protect young immigrants from possible deportation by the federal government, if Congress or the courts do not act.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that DACA was being revoked because it is “an unconstitutional exercise of authority,” enacted without congressional approval by President Barack Obama in 2012.
The policy granted two-year, renewable work permits to certain young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, offering them a reprieve from deportation and allowing them to work. About 8,000 young people in Massachusetts are DACA recipients.
Sessions said the federal government would immediately stop granting new DACA applications and give Congress six months to approve a legislative fix — “if it chooses to do so.”
The six-month window means that the only recipients who can apply for a renewal of their two-year work permits are those whose permits expire between Oct. 5 and March 5, 2018, when the program ends, said Greg Romanovsky, chairman of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Those applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and could result in a two-year extension for a select few, he said. But after March 5, he said, all other DACA recipients are subject to deportation.
“They’re completely exposed,” Romanovsky said. “Their information is now with the US government, and the government knows they can potentially start knocking on people’s doors and start putting people in removal proceedings. That would be very unfortunate, but, with this administration, you can expect anything.”
The Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, which advocates for reduced legal immigration and a strong law enforcement response to illegal immigration, cheered Trump’s decision. Steve Kropper, the group’s vice chairman, said DACA diverts resources from needy citizens to people who entered the country illegally.
“My priority is the poor,” Kropper said. “Whether it is public schools or public housing or health care budgets, the more illegals we have in this country, the less we have for our poor.”
Massachusetts college and university leaders said they would try to support students who fear deportation.
They promised legal help and counseling and said they would continue to lobby Congress and the Legislature for legal protections for undocumented youth.
“This cruel policy recognizes neither justice nor mercy,” said Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, which has said it has about 65 DACA recipients.
Harvard, Tufts University, and Northeastern University have assured DACA students that they can continue to receive school financial aid, regardless of immigration status, officials there said.
The leaders of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system said in a statement that they would not release students’ immigration status to outside parties “without permission from the student, a judicial warrant or subpoena, or as otherwise compelled by law.” UMass leaders also said their campus police will not voluntarily help law enforcement agencies enforce immigration actions that are not directly related to criminal acts or terrorism.
Several professors from Boston-area universities vowed to protest the DACA decision by sitting down and blocking traffic Thursday on Massachusetts Avenue, by the gates of Harvard.
“We see this as an attack on students, but also the university community,” said Kirsten Weld, an associate professor of social sciences at Harvard. College students also planned protests across campuses, and one was held Tuesday afternoon at Harvard.
Meanwhile, the Council of Presidents, which represents the state’s nine public colleges, sent a letter to legislative leaders asking lawmakers to guarantee in-state tuition rates to “undocumented students” who have previously qualified under DACA.
Under a federal executive order, public higher education institutions offer students in the country illegally the same rate provided to legal residents, as long as they have lived in Massachusetts for 12 continuous months. The bill’s advocates say it would enshrine the order’s provisions in state law.
“Simply put, passage of the bill would allow us to continue what we have done for the past several years and extend to all our Massachusetts students in-state tuition,” wrote Vincent Pedone, executive officer of the State University Council of Presidents in a letter to Massachusetts Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.
Governor Charlie Baker, Rosenberg, and DeLeo issued separate statements Tuesday condemning Trump’s decisions but did not directly address the in-state tuition bill.
Baker, a Republican, 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 said.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston said the end of DACA 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, the city’s all-purpose hot line, 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.
Jim O’Sullivan and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.