The United States' immigration policy is a convoluted mess of laws that can only be straightened out through the legislative branch, said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
President Obama's 2012 executive order that started the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program yanked that power from Congress and forced President Trump's decision Tuesday morning to wind it down, said Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown.
"From dangerous ‘sanctuary city’ policies to the national security threat posed by our compromised borders, it is clear that our immigration system is broken and there is much that needs to be done to fix it," said Fitzpatrick in a press statement. "No sustainable fix, however, will be found through executive action only; in fact, it was the previous administration's usurping of Congressional lawmaking authority which complicated this issue in the first place."
Fitzpatrick's comments echoed Attorney General Jeff Sessions' statement during a televised address Tuesday morning announcing the end of DACA. In his prepared remarks, Sessions said his office reviewed Obama's policy and determined that the Justice Department would not defend the executive order against legal challenges.
"Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach," Sessions said.
Obama penned the DACA executive order in June 2012 after the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate in 2010 and 2011. The program gave legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their families when they were younger than 16 years old.
Applicants had to maintain a clean criminal record and either be enrolled in college, have a high school diploma or GED, or discharged from a branch of the military. Achieving DACA status allowed undocumented immigrants access to certain benefits, such as drivers licenses, and people in the program had to renew their status every two years.
The Trump administration's decision will wind down the DACA program over the next six months. The government will not accept any new DACA applications after Tuesday.
Immigrants who have applications under consideration can have their status approved for one, two-year permit, and current DACA enrollees whose permits expire before March 5, 2018, can be renewed one more time. Those renewal requests must be filed before Oct. 5. Any DACA permits with expiration dates March 6, 2018, or later will not be renewed.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, praised the president's actions in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
“Children who were brought to the United States illegally, at a young age, are not at fault and deserve our support. However, President Obama did not have the legal authority to create the DACA program and to ignore enforcement of existing immigration law. President Trump’s decision to end this program, while giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution, is the right step," he said in the brief statement.
Several other Pennsylvania lawmakers were swift to criticize Trump's actions and pledged to protect as many of the more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants who could face deportation if DACA ends without a replacement. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey called the ending of DACA "profoundly unjust, immoral and without regard for basic fairness."
"The 'Dreamers' are young people who have lived in our country since they were children," the Democrat said. "They have been law-abiding residents who have learned English, paid taxes and secured jobs that allow them to support themselves and their families. Our government promised them that they would be protected if they came forward and now President Trump is breaking that promise."
According to a statement from Attorney General Josh Shapiro, more than 5,800 Dreamers live in Pennsylvania, and he will "take legal action if the federal government breaks the law as it ends its commitment to these young people."
"They came here through no fault of their own as young children in the care of their parents," said Shapiro in a statement. "They relied on a commitment from the U.S. government and should be able to depend on that promise — not live in fear."
Shapiro and Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale strongly urged Congress to start working on a legislative remedy for the people affected by Trump's decision. DePasquale said the removal of DACA enrollees from Pennsylvania would negatively impact the state's economy by as much as $323 million.
"Five years ago, America made a promise to young immigrants who arrived as children and grew up in our communities," said DePasquale. "We have a moral obligation to uphold that promise, and I urge members of the U.S. Congress to act swiftly to protect hundreds of thousands of families."
A statement tweeted by Trump before Sessions' briefing suggests that the president also wants Congress to work out the DACA issue, saying "Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!"
A news release from the White House outlining Trump's order also states the six-month wind down gives Congress an opportunity for legislative solutions.
The last attempt to pass a version of the DREAM Act came in 2013, when provisions of the bill were attached to a comprehensive immigration reform package approved by a bipartisan 68-32 Senate vote. That bill never made it to the House floor for a full vote.
In his emailed remarks, Fitzpatrick agreed that congressional action is required to address all immigration issues, including DACA.
"Congress must reassert its authority and work to fix our immigration system by taking into account all aspects of the issue — from enacting 'Kate's Law' to deport those who commit crimes while here illegally, to defunding sanctuary cities, to securing operational control of our borders, to treating with compassion those children who were brought here due to no fault of their own, in a manner that is becoming of American ideals and values," said Fitzpatrick.
Several state and national nonprofit organizations and industry groups also spoke out against the end of DACA, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Main Street Alliance and the League of Women Voters. A coalition of state activist groups announced plans to occupy the local offices of Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers Wednesday, with a delegation set to appear at Fitzpatrick's Middletown office at noon.
"The reality is that Dreamers and their families ... need a permanent solution that will only be achieved through permanent immigration reform passed by Congress," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, a Maryland-based pro-immigration organization. "We need to stop the deportation machine, funding for the wall and get down to the business of passing fair and just laws that will encourage growth and keep families together."