‘Wrong, self-defeating and cruel’: former president Barack Obama slams Donald Trump’s decision to scrap DACA
The programme granted protection from deportation and made work permits available and was billed as a way of bringing its 800,000 enrollees out of the shadow economy and recognising their American identities
In an extraordinary 850-word statement, Barack Obama sharply criticised US President Donald Trump’s move on Tuesday to strip protections from young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers”.
It was Obama’s most significant foray in public life since he left the presidency. He had previously issued a brief statement, through a spokesperson, criticising Trump’s attempted travel ban, and a lengthy written statement on Republican attempts to repeal his signature health care law.
He also tweeted a series of Nelson Mandela quotes after racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.
In the statement, which was posted to his Facebook page, Obama blasted Trump’s move to repeal the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, or DACA, calling it “a political decision”. Earlier on Tuesday, the Trump administration branded DACA “unilateral executive amnesty”.
“Let’s be clear,” Obama wrote. “The action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question.”
To be eligible for the Obama-era programme, applicants needed to have arrived in the US before age 15 and before 2007. The programme granted protection from deportation and made work permits available and was billed as a way of bringing its 800,000 enrollees out of the shadow economy and recognising their American identities.
“But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again,” Obama said. “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.
“What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbour 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?”
Obama urged congress to pass legislation replacing protection for young migrants who arrived as children.
“I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel,” he said. “Ultimately, this is about basic decency.”
The White House did not have an immediate reaction. Trump earlier sought to shift responsibility on the issue to Congress, which he exhorted in a tweet in advance of his policy announcement to “do your job”.
Trump justified the policy shift by describing a constitutional misstep on the part of the Obama administration.
“The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws – this is the bedrock of our constitutional system, which I took a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend,” the president said in a statement defending a decision he did not announce, instead sending out attorney general Jeff Sessions.
Obama rejected the analysis, saying the DACA policy was based on “well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion” and saying Congress had failed to act to address the problem.
“For years while I was president, I asked Congress to send me such a bill,” Obama said. “That bill never came.”
Former vice-president Joe Biden also criticised the Trump policy, tweeting earlier on Tuesday: “Brought by parents, these children had no choice in coming here. Now they’ll be sent to countries they’ve never known. Cruel. Not America.”
Obama suggested in the final news conference of his presidency that he might speak out if Trump sought to undo the DACA programme.
“The notion that we would just arbitrarily – or because of politics – punish those kids when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out,” Obama said.
The statement came days after the text of a letter Obama left for Trump on inauguration day was revealed. In the letter, Obama urged Trump to protect national institutions and act in the presidency as a caretaker of the office.
“We are just temporary occupants of this office,” Obama wrote. “That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions – like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties – that our forebears fought and bled for.
“Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.”