Former President Barack Obama said that the decision by the Trump administration to end the "Dreamer" program was "self-defeating" and "cruel."
In a rare statement since leaving the presidency, Obama said that "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."
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be rescinded, after a phase-out of six months. President Donald Trump has called for Congress to address the issue of what happens to individuals who came to the United States as kids with their undocumented parents.
But Obama defended his 2012 executive order that established the DACA program, noting that he issued it after Congress failed to pass so-called "Dreamer" legislation.
In his statement, Obama said that "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."
Sessions argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he issued his executive order. But legal scholars have different opinions on whether that is the case.
Obama said that his executive order was "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."
He said that after the executive order, "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."
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