‘A devastating betrayal’: Colorado officials react to Trump’s decision to end DACA program

Author: Ernest Luning - September 5, 2017 - Updated: September 6, 2017

Tania Chavez, left, reacts as she listens to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the end of the program that protects immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as DACA, during a gathering in support of the program, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in front to the Texas Attorney General’s office in Pharr, Texas. (Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor via AP)

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, called President Trump’s Tuesday decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program “the height of cruelty” and called on Congress to come up with a plan to replace it.

“Today’s announcement is a devastating betrayal for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have used the security of DACA status to receive an education, pursue careers, and safely put down roots in their communities,” Bennet said in a statement.

“This decision is the height of cruelty: It’s an attempt to score political points by separating families and disrupting schools and workplaces. The President has revealed his priorities and values; in response, bipartisan leaders in business, education and local government around the country have spoken up in defense of DACA. Congress must work together to find a legislative solution to protect DREAMers.”

The Trump administration plans to “wind down” the Obama-era program, which protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared Tuesday, calling DACA “an unconstitutional exercise of authority.”

The federal government will stop processing new applications under the program, which has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S. But the administration is giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix before the government stops renewing permits for people already covered by the program.

“Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed,” Sessions said.

Reactions to the announcement from Colorado officials and organizations poured in on social media and in statements Tuesday.

Democrats and their allies roundly condemned the Trump administration’s decision and called it urgent that Congress replace the program with legislation to accomplish the same thing. Many Republicans, at the same time, assessed Tuesday’s development differently but arrived at a similar conclusion, saying that Trump had created an opening for Congress to establish something akin to DACA in the six-month window before the program disappears.

Bennet’s Republican counterpart, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, said Congress now has the opportunity to come up with a legislative fix to ensure children who qualify for DACA “continue to have the opportunity to be in this country.”

“I have long said that we need to have a legislative solution to fix our broken immigration system – this also includes children living in this country without documentation who were brought here by no fault of their own,” Gardner said in a statement. “I’m currently working with my colleagues in Congress about the next legislative steps we can take to ensure these children continue to have the opportunity to be in this country. We are in this situation today because the program was created through executive action by the previous administration instead of through Congress. We now have the opportunity to fix this issue through the legislative process.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, took a more accusatory tone, blaming the Obama administration for dismantling the country’s immigration laws. He expressed hope that Congress can “find meaningful solutions to this difficult problem,” noting that solutions should “uphold the rule of law, protect our country, and ensure fairness in our immigration processes.”

“I’m encouraged by the President’s commitment to cracking down on illegal immigration, securing our borders, and reversing the unconstitutional DACA program,” Lamborn said in a statement. “I have always opposed any type of amnesty and will continue to do so.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton also blamed the Obama administration for unilaterally creating the DACA program “without going through the legislative process.” He applauded the Trump administration’s “commitment to the rule of law.”

It’s now the responsibility of Congress “to develop a compassionate and commonsense solution for the children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents,” Tipton said in a statement.

“These individuals have grown up in the United States and are now upstanding, valued members of our communities,” he said. “They should not be punished for a decision that was made by their parents years ago.”

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, said in a statement he opposed Obama’s DACA order because he believed it was “wrong and unconstitutional,” and instead suggested it’s up to Congress to write immigration law.

“President Trump made the right choice by giving Congress time to pass legislation that secures our border from future illegal immigration while also addressing issues like DACA,” Buck said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper criticized Trump’s decision with less inflammatory terms than some of his fellow Democrats but nonetheless made clear he disagrees with the move and said the state will continue to embrace the DACA recipients, sometimes called “Dreamers” in reference to the congressional DREAM Act. (The acronym stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.) The governor also encouraged Colorado’s congressional delegation to pass the legislation in order to codify the cancelled policy.

“Colorado has always been a place where people can determine their destiny. The DACA program provides thousands of young people the opportunity to do just that. President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of more than 17,000 Coloradans. We strongly encourage Colorado’s congressional delegation to support the passage of the DREAM Act, ensuring that Dreamers can continue making contributions to the only country they’ve ever called home. We will not turn our back on these young people and neither should our country,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, for her part, denounced Trump’s decision in strong terms, calling it a “cynical reversal” from the president’s previous public positions on the 800,000 DACA participants.

“President Trump has called the 800,000 Dreamers ‘really incredible kids’ and he publicly assured them that they could ‘rest easy.’ But now, in a cruel and cynical reversal that puts the president squarely on the wrong side of history, the administration has declared that it will end the DACA program,” Duran said in a statement. She said that 17,000 Colorado residents “are now at risk of having their lives uprooted and being separated from their loved ones,” adding that DACA recipients contribute more than $800 million to the state’s economy.

“Most of all, this is an issue of basic humanity. Dreamers were brought here as children, grew up and went to school and built their lives here, and are Americans in every sense but their documentation,” Duran continued. “They are living — and contributing to — the American Dream. They should be allowed to stay, and I call on Congress to create a viable path for them to gain citizenship.​”

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, called the president’s decision a “crushing blow” but vowed to keep working toward helping its recipients become citizens — a status beyond the ability to work and be shielded from deportation that the DACA program provides.

“.‘ ending of is a crushing blow, but won’t end our efforts to help attain citizenship,” DeGette said in a tweet.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and candidate for governor of Colorado, said he was “outraged” at the decision and called the situation dire. He urged Congress to “do its job” by crafting a permanent solution to create legal status for DACA recipients.

“Today I am outraged that more than 17,000 Coloradans, who I consider my fellow Americans, got the news that their lives have dramatically altered by a callous and short-sighted decision of our president,” Polis said in a statement. “By ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Trump has cast nearly one million aspiring Americans back into the shadows.”

“The situation is dire. These aspiring Americans belong here, and they should have the ability to use their talents and pursue their dreams. … It is past time for Congress to rise to the occasion, and do its job by creating a permanent solution to help this population, and that is why I will continue to advocate for the American Hope Act or other legislation to create a permanent way out of the shadows for Brithany, Oscar, and so many others whose stories are just as inspiring,” Polis continued, referring to particular immigrants brought to the United States as children.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican and congressional candidate in the 5th District, said Trump has created “a great opportunity by placing the burden of real, lasting action on Congress today” and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to formulate a program like DACA, with some differences.

“It’s time for Congress to act on lasting immigration reform and legislation,” Hill told Colorado Politics in a statement. “With the announcement from Attorney General Sessions this morning, we have the opportunity to secure our borders and enforce our laws, while still understanding the complexity of working to overhaul a system that has been broken for decades. … Here is where President Trump has made a great decision to eliminate the unconstitutional executive orders issued by President Obama while also giving Congress the chance to do what it’s supposed to do: legislate.”

Hill proposed bundling the creation a student and work visa program for certain immigrants brought to America when they were minors with funding for the border wall with Mexico that was a central plank in Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Rather than the impending showdown over funding the border wall and upping enforcement, we have a chance to implement a reasonable work and student visa program while also funding our needed immigration enforcement for law-breakers. This student visa program should apply to minors who were brought here years ago and have since come to believe in the American dream and learned English, are paying taxes, and paying their own way to go to college,” Hill said. A work visa program, he added, could be similar to one proposed by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, that would allow employers to purchase visas authorized at the state level.

“Both of these options have appeal on both sides of the political isle, and by tying it to funding the border wall, Congress could prove that they are up to the task of making meaningful reforms to our broken laws. President Trump’s initiative has created this opportunity and how it is Congress’s turn to fix our laws,” Hill concluded.

Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat, called Tuesday’s announcement “cold-hearted and shameful” and said it was up to Colorado’s members of Congress to solve the problem without using DACA recipients as “bargaining chips.”

“The President’s decision to end DACA is cold-hearted and shameful,” Guzman said in a statement. “Dreamers are young people who grew up here, went to school, worked hard, and have contributed so much to our society. They have known only one country as their home, and that is the United States of America. To say now that these young people are at risk of being forcibly removed and deported is a deep betrayal of our American values.

“Over 17,000 of these Dreamers are Coloradans, and they have been integral to our state’s economy growing into one of the nation’s strongest. We at the state Legislature took action to make sure they had access to in-state college tuition rates so they could pursue higher education. Now it is up to Colorado’s congressional delegation to not only work with the rest of Congress to pass a bill that will allow Dreamers across the country to remain here, but to ensure Dreamers are not being used as bargaining chips by the President so he can further his anti-immigrant agenda.”

State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said he’s angry about the decision.

“It takes a lot to make me angry,” Moreno posted on Facebook. “Today, I’m angry. I know DACA-eligible folks. I grew up alongside many of them. They are treasures in our communities and our country is better off for them being here.”

A spokesman for Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays said the state party agrees with Trump’s decision, noting that some Republicans — including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — sympathize with the DREAMers while at the same time believing the executive order that created DACA is unconstitutional.

“Immigration policy belongs to Congress, not the executive branch,” Daniel Cole, the state GOP’s communications director, told Colorado Politics.

As for how Congress might shape that policy, he said that’s up to Republican lawmakers.

“The Republican caucus will need a little time to develop consensus about how to approach this problem,” Cole said. “President Obama’s overreach effectively robbed Congress of its authority over immigration policy, and it regained that authority only a couple of hours ago. Congress deserves a little time to decide how to wield it.”

Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll didn’t mince words, charging in a statement that the president “has made attacking immigrant kids his biggest priority.”

She argued that Tuesday’s announcement “is not just despicably cruel but politically stupid,” pointing to recent polling that shows 78 percent of registered voters want DREAMers to be allowed to stay in the country, a position shared by two-thirds of Trump voters.

“By ending DACA, families will be torn apart, our economy will suffer, and taxpayers will be forced to pay for a mass deportation of young Americans. Colorado will be one of the most impacted states in the country — ending DACA will cost our state 800 million in GDP and countless jobs,” Carroll said. “All of this is being done to satisfy the GOP’s white nationalist base. And it’s not just Trump — when a program similar to DACA came up for a vote in 2010, both Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn voted against protecting DREAMers. And in 2013, Coffman and Lamborn joined Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton in voting to block implementation of DACA.”

This post has been updated with additional reactions.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.