Mass. leaders, Berkshire immigrant advocates slam Trump on DACA move

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said he expects a "historic debate" about DACA on the Senate floor in Washington.

PITTSFIELD — Three U.S. lawmakers who represent Massachusetts hotly condemned President Donald Trump's decision Tuesday to undo a policy that protects young undocumented people from deportation.

"Repealing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is heartbreaking, it is unjust, and it is just plain evil," said Sen. Edward Markey in a prepared statement.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also took aim at U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement to rescind the policy, calling it "part of the bigoted and anti-immigrant policies that have been a cornerstone of [Trump's] administration."

And U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said the decision to repeal DACA is "disgraceful."

It is a move that could affect around 800,000 undocumented young people nationwide, and nearly 8,000 in Massachusetts, something noted by Gov. Charlie Baker, who said Trump made "the wrong decision."

Young people in the DACA program are sometimes referred to as "Dreamers" after the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) was introduced into Congress 2001, but never passed. The bill would have helped young people work for legal status by serving in the military or going to college.

DACA gives undocumented residents who came to the U.S. as children a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation. It also gives them the right to work in the U.S. and other benefits like participation in the Social Security program.

Sessions told the Department of Homeland Security it should rescind the policy enacted by President Barak Obama in 2012. Sessions said because it was created through an executive order and never turned into legislation, it has "legal and constitutional defects" that would hinder "proper enforcement of our immigration laws."

"I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents," Trump wrote in a statement defending the decision. "But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."

Trump's plan calls on Congress to replace DACA with legislation before it is phased out in what Sessions said should be a "wind-down process" ending March 5, 2018.

For Brooke Mead, executive director of Pittsfield-based Berkshire Immigrant Center, her "panic" began last week when rumors of Trump's decision started swirling, she said.

"I sent out an email to all our clients," she added, noting that she's had a lot of inquiries from people in the DACA program about what this might mean. Mead said the center consults with around 20 to 30 people a year who are in the program.

Mead also said she gave clients links to helpful online guides including those provided by The Immigrant Legal Resource Center and The White House, which she said was helpful in understanding how this will affect people in a variety of circumstances.

Because a person must be 15 years old to apply for the DACA program, she said, the repeal will shut people out.

"This [repeal] is closing the door on a number of young people who would be aging in or did age in recently," she said, adding that she's ready to run what she says will be a "marathon" to maintain these protections and save people from deportation, and she hopes others will, too.

"People should be contacting their Congressman," she said.

Organizers with the group Northern Berkshires for Racial Justice planned a demonstration today at 6 p.m. at Field Park in Williamstown. The Facebook event posted by the group says: "Come stand with us as we protest the cruel repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Bring your signs, friends and family. Remember, silence is not an option."

Both Neal and Markey said it was time for Congress to revive the DREAM Act.

"Sending innocent DREAMers back to their home countries through no fault of their own is shameful," Neal said in a statement. "These individuals are our neighbors, friends, and family members ... I urge Speaker Ryan and the Republican House leadership to bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a debate immediately."

Trump's announcement drew resistance from around the state.

Baker called a DACA repeal one that "could negatively impact our economy and many of the Commonwealth's families."

Baker went on to say that recipients of the program include around 8,000 young residents in the state "who are right now serving in our military, attending our schools and contributing to our economy while striving to give back to their communities."

In a statement, Carol Rose, executive director of the state ACLU said Trump has made a "cruel" move that could also cause a loss of more than $606 million that people in DACA contribute to the local economy.

And Massachusetts Democratic party Chairman Gus Bickford said Trump's move will harm families and force undocumented young people "back into the shadows."

Yet Trump said this hard line is necessary to "put American jobs and American security first."

And Sessions echoed that in his televised announcement.

"We are people of compassion, and we are people of law, but there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration law," he said.

Markey said the decision wouldn't be tolerated.

"This decision ... will not stand," he said. "With Congress returning this week, Republicans should prepare for a political juggernaut of voices and calls and protests demanding protections for Dreamers who deserve their opportunity to achieve their American dream."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871