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The Trump administration is winding down a program that protects young immigrants from deportation, those who entered the country illegally as children. It has paved the way for nearly 800,000 people to live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. They're known as DREAMers. The U.S. will now stop accepting new applications for the program. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports the Justice Department concluded the program is unconstitutional.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: News that the Trump White House would rescind the popular program did not come from President Trump or the White House. Instead the responsibility fell to Jeff Sessions. As a U.S. senator, Sessions opposed nearly every immigration measure over the past 20 years, and as U.S. attorney general, he advised the president to end a program he calls amnesty.
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JEFF SESSIONS: As attorney general, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld.
JOHNSON: In 2012, the Obama administration used executive action to grant young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents a temporary reprieve from deportation. The program is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Known as DACA, it gave them access to education and jobs. But Attorney General Sessions says the Obama White House went too far.
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SESSIONS: Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.
JOHNSON: Texas and eight other states had threatened to sue as early as today to invalidate the program. But in a letter Monday, Sessions told Homeland Security and the White House he could not defend the initiative. Instead the administration plans a gradual wind-down. Immigration officials will stop taking new applications, and DHS will continue to decide on renewals case by case in the coming months.
In a statement, President Trump says there can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the president wrestled with the issue, and he wants to act responsibly.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's not cold-hearted for the president to uphold the law. We are a nation of law and order. And the day that we start to ignore the fact that we are that, then we throw away everything that gives these people a reason to want to come to our country.
JOHNSON: His predecessor, Barack Obama, broke his silence in a Facebook post. Obama called the decision political, not legal. And he says this is about young people who grew up in America, Americans in every single way but one - on paper. Maria Praeli came here illegally with her family from Peru when she was 5 years old. Today she works with a group of technology leaders who want to overhaul immigration laws.
MARIA PRAELI: It has been painful to have to plan for my world to be turned upside down, to have to imagine not being able to work and build a life that I have worked so hard for.
JOHNSON: Praeli says she feels vulnerable because she shared personal information with the feds. Now it could be used to deport her. Back at the White House, Press Secretary Sanders says young people who took part in the DACA program will not be a priority for deportation. Sanders says the president is confident that lawmakers will act. But seven years after Congress rejected a bill that would have helped those DREAMers, immigration advocates aren't so sure. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.