Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Trump administration was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that began under former President Barack Obama, and defended the move as one aimed at ending the "lawlessness" that Obama created with his unilateral executive action.
"[T]he executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions," Sessions in prepared remarks from the Justice Department in Washington. "Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch."
Sessions said he advised President Trump and Department of Homeland Security to begin an "orderly, lawful wind down" of DACA.
Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke has since chosen to "initiate a wind-down process," Sessions said, giving Congress time to act on immigration "should it so choose."
Obama created DACA in June 2012 in order to spare hundreds of thousands of people from deportation who were brought into the country as children. The program also lets them work in the United States.
Duke said none of the nearly 800,000 people using the program would be affected for six months, which gives Congress a chance to decide through legislation what protections they should get. Duke also said no new applications would be taken.
Sessions said ending DACA is equivalent to ending the "lawlessness" created by Obama.
"The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws, and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those laws, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation," he said.
Ending DACA will push Congress to establish a "lawful and constitutional immigration system" that Sessions said will make the country "safer and more secure."
Democrats have criticized the Trump administration for upending the lives of the thousands of people who use the program. But Sessions said the issue is about rule of law, and is not meant to target the people who use it.
"This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way," he said. "It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them."
"We are a people of compassion and we are a people of law," he added. "But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws."
Sessions noted that since Trump took office, illegal border crosses have been down significantly.
"But the problem is not solved," he said. "And without more action, we could see illegality rise again rather than be eliminated."
Sessions did not take questions following his remarks.