U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday the Trump administration had decided to rescind the so-called "Dreamers" program, which shields some immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children from deportation.
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"I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded," Sessions told reporters, putting about 1 million people who consider themselves Americans in legal limbo.
President Donald Trump suggested in an earlier tweet Tuesday that it would be up to Congress to ultimately decide the fate of those covered by former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.
DACA has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States.
Sessions said that Congress would have six months to decide on an alternative to protect the immigrants, who are often called "Dreamers."
But since the president took office in January, Congress has been unable to pass any major legislation and has been bitterly divided over immigration in the past.
Former President Barack Obama bypassed Congress and created DACA through an executive order.
Reacting to the decision, Obama said that rescinding the program was "cruel," "self-defeating" and "wrong."
"Let's be clear: the action taken today isn't required legally," Obama said in a post on Facebook. "It's a political decision, and a moral question."
"Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn't threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us," he wrote.
Trump appeared determined to pressure U.S. lawmakers to act. "Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!" the president wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning before the policy announcement was made.
There were some signs that Congress might be willing to act, with a number of senior Republican lawmakers coming forward to express an interest in protecting the Dreamers.
The president's decision may have been forced by nine Republican state attorneys general, led by Texas, who had threatened a legal challenge in federal court if Trump did not act to end DACA. A number of Democratic state attorneys general have threatened legal action to defend the program.
The Department of Homeland Security will provide a limited window for some DACA recipients whose work permits expire before March 5, 2018 to apply to renew those permits. Such individuals must apply for renewal before October 5, administration officials said in a briefing call with reporters.
Former DACA recipients whose work permits expire will be considered to be in the United States without permission and are eligible for removal, but they will be a low priority for immigration enforcement, the officials said.