Former President Barack Obama released a lengthy statement on Tuesday, criticizing President Trump's decision to end a program giving illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age a reprieve from deportation.
The Trump administration officially announced its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which provides a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children – with a six-month delay for current recipients.
"To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong," Obama said. "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 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?"
While Obama called the decision "wrong," "self-defeating," and "cruel," the Trump White House maintains that it was bound by law to rescind an "unconstitutional" overreach — and that Obama himself admitted as much back in March 2011. During a town hall hosted by Spanish-language network Univision, Obama said, "With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed."
However, Obama instituted the DACA program 15 months later, a move Trump called "an end-run around Congress ... violating the core tenets that sustain our Republic."
"I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents," Trump's statement went on. "But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."
Obama, however, questioned the motive behind the decision.
"Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally," he said. "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. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages."
In announcing the policy change, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also decried what he called the Obama administration's "disrespect for the legislative process" in initially enacting the 2012 policy. Sessions described DACA as "unilateral executive amnesty" and added that it probably would have been blocked by the courts.
“The executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions,” said Sessions, who blamed the policy for the recent “surge” at the U.S.-Mexico border. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”
Fox News' Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.