Arizona lawmakers sour on plan to revoke DACA, vow to work on new bill

WASHINGTON – Arizona Democrats, joined by some Republicans, had harsh words for the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement that it will revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program unless Congress can agree on a replacement in six months.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said that rescinding DACA – which has benefited almost 800,000 immigrants, about 28,000 of them in Arizona – amounts to “criminalizing a whole generation of people” who “willingly trusted the federal government with their personal information.”

“To now force them to return to a state of fear is not only immoral, but it runs afoul of our immigrant heritage as a nation,” Grijalva said in a written statement.

But most lawmakers who criticized the decision also said they planned to work in a bipartisan manner to come up with a solution before the March 5 deadline set by the White House.

“I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to devise and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will include the DREAM Act,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in a statement that blasted the “unacceptable reversal of the promises” made to DACA recipients.

DACA was created in 2012 by executive order by then-President Barack Obama after Congress repeatedly failed to act on comprehensive immigration reforms.

Under the program, immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as minors could apply for protection from deportation. To be approved, however, they had to have clean records, be in school or in the military, and pay a fee, among other criteria.

Trump campaigned on a promise to do away with DACA, although he has said he is sympathetic to the plight of such immigrants, also known as DREAMers.

Faced with a Tuesday deadline from several states that had threatened to sue to overturn the DACA program, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he determined that the program would not withstand a legal challenge. Rather than run the risk of having it overturned all at once by a court, he said the administration had decided to phase out the program over the next six months.

That announcement was supported by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, who said in an emailed statement that a policy like DACA does not belong in the United States, a “nation that lives and dies by the Rule of Law.”

“I am so happy to see Mr. Trump moving us toward stricter rules that protect the wallet of the taxpayer and defend the safety of our citizens,” his statement said.

But Rep. Ruben Gallego. D-Phoenix, compared the DACA decision to the recent racial conflict in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s pardon last month of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – for which Gallego tweeted that Trump was a “racist.”

“Trump is utterly unable to control his impulse to indulge the most hateful elements of our society – Charlottesville, Arpaio & now DACA,” Gallego tweeted after Tuesday’s announcement. “Knowingly inflicting pain on others for personal or political gain is the worst sin an American leader can commit.”

McCain, a frequent critic of Trump, said in his statement that “rescinding DACA at this time is an unacceptable reversal of the promises and opportunities that have been conferred to these individuals.”

McCain added that the president’s approach to immigration policy is the wrong approach “at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border.”

In a statement Tuesday, Obama said the administration’s “action today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision and a moral question.”

Obama said that while he was in office, he waited for Congress to produce a bill that would let children of immigrants have a chance to stay and earn their citizenship.

“That bill never came,” his statement said. Instead, his administration decided to rely on what he called the “well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, tweeted after the Sessions announcement that legislation like DACA is Congress’ responsibility.

“It should be evident from the fear and confusion surrounding #DACA that executive actions have a short-shelf life and are a poor substitute for permanent, bipartisan legislation to fix our broken immigration system,” his tweets said. “The ball is back in Congress’ court where it belongs, and there are a lot of innocent kids counting on Congress to do its job.”

Flake is one of eight co-sponsors on the DREAM Act of 2017, a bill that would put into law a number of the provisions of the DACA program.

Other Arizona lawmakers expressed both a willingness and need for bipartisan collaboration over the coming months.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said in a statement that he is willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats on a solution to DACA. But in an interview, he emphasized that Republicans have a responsibility as the majority party.

“Six months is not the issue,” O’Halleran said. “It’s whether the Republican caucus wants to put this thing to the floor and get it moving.”

-Cronkite News video by Bailey Vogt

Flake’s tweets highlighted the urgency of passing “stand-alone legislation.” Grijalva agreed, but cautioned that DACA should not be “held hostage” by Republicans who are trying to push other policies through.

Grijalva, who called for action this month, said Republicans cannot come to the table saying, “We’ll give you DACA but you give us a fence, give us a wall. Give us 5,000 more ICE agents, or give us more restrictive policies in the future.”

“That’s part of the discussion going on and we’re of the position no. Clean. Stand-alone. And we’ll deal with those other things later,” he said.