Kansas public officials were sharply divided along party lines Tuesday in response to President Donald Trump's decision to phase out an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children to obtain work permits and remain here without fear of deportation.
The program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was launched in 2012 by an executive order. Since then, an estimated 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers" have obtained work permits under the program nationwide, including nearly 7,000 in Kansas.
Attorneys general in 10 states, including Kansas, joined a federal lawsuit in Texas challenging the program, claiming it conflicted with federal statutes and was an impermissible use of executive authority.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement Tuesday praising President Trump's decision.
“The Trump administration’s actions today return the issue to the only place constitutionally empowered to resolve it: The United States Congress," Schmidt said in a news release. "Congress has had more than five years to address this issue and has done nothing, but perhaps having a legal deadline, after which neither the president nor the courts will continue to turn a blind eye to unlawful executive actions, can motivate Congress to act."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the Trump administration was rescinding the DACA program and that no new applications would be taken. However, he said the administration would give Congress six months to address the issue through legislation, if it chooses to do so, before it stops renewing permits for people already covered by the program.
Kansas 2nd District Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, a Topeka Republican whose district includes Lawrence, said she looked forward to working on a legislative solution, but she was vague about what that program would look like.
"These children did not come to America on their own terms, they simply followed their parents," Jenkins said in a news release. "In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with my colleagues to create a permanent solution through the legislative process with input from Kansans in the 2nd District.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has crusaded for tough laws at the federal, state and local levels to combat illegal immigration, said on the cable news show Fox and Friends that he supported repealing DACA, and that he opposes replacing it with a congressionally enacted plan.
"It's a tough job market, and those in Congress who are saying, 'Mr. President, don't get rid of this DACA amnesty,' should remember, our young U.S. citizens are having a really tough time," Kobach said. "Why would you want to give an amnesty to 1.7 million young illegal aliens to compete against them?"
Third District Congressman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, posted a statement on Facebook saying he opposed DACA and believes it, “has served as a magnet, bringing tens of thousands of new immigrants, exacerbating our illegal immigration challenges, and creating a humanitarian crisis at the border."
“The President has given Congress a six-month window to act on immigration reform, and that’s exactly what we should do,” Yoder said in the statement. “We must secure our borders, repair our broken visa program, and provide needed reforms and certainty and stability for minors. We must pursue policies that are both compassionate and restore the rule of law in our country.”
Fourth District Congressman Ron Estes, a Wichita Republican, also issued a statement praising Trump's decision.
“This decision gives Congress time to fix our broken immigration system," he said in a news release. "Congress can do this by securing our borders, reviewing our immigration process, and not providing amnesty to those who disregard our nation’s laws.”
On Friday last week, a number of Democrats in the Kansas Legislature took part in a Statehouse rally in support of the DACA program.
On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, who is also running for governor, joined Reps. John Alcala of Topeka, Louis Ruiz of Kansas City, Kan., and Ponka-We Victors of Wichita in issuing a joint statement condemning the decision to end DACA.
“We are appalled and outraged at the decision of President Trump to end the DACA program," the Democrats said. "This is a merciless move that not only harms more than 800,000 Americans, but the United States’ economy, workforce, and well-being. DACA recipients contribute $1.2 billion in new tax revenue every year. 95% of DACA participants are currently working or in school."
Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, a statewide faith-based advocacy organization, also issued a statement condemning the decision.
"The decision to dismantle the DACA program is an affront to basic human decency," Rieber said in a news release. "The major religious traditions teach us to welcome the stranger and to treat people fairly. This decision runs directly counter to those teachings. It harms not only the people directly involved, but frankly, the very soul of our nation."