Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Trump Directive To End The DACA Program

After promising he would treat DACA recipients with “great heart,” President Trump has instead made a heartless decision to abandon protections for our Nation’s DREAMers.  An unfortunate pattern has emerged with this White House.  Facing historic low approval ratings, the President desperately rallies his dwindling supporters by exploiting fear and resentment.  Such conduct is shameful and unbecoming of the presidency, an office intended to represent our proudest ideals — not play to basest instincts. 

We live in an unprecedented time when our President prefers to divide us, rather than unite us.  Instead of honoring the sacrifice made by transgender individuals serving in our Armed Forces, President Trump decided to ban them from serving at all.  When white supremacists violently rallied around hate in Charlottesville, resulting in the murder of Heather Heyer, the President equated those who promote bigotry with those who oppose it.

This week the President is targeting another vulnerable population — DREAMers.  DREAMers are American by almost any definition.  They came to the United States as children through no fault - and by no choice - of their own.  They have played by our country’s rules, have no criminal records, and seek only the chance to contribute to their communities.  America is their home, and often the only country they have ever known.  By threatening DREAMers, President Trump threatens the American dream itself.

The President’s attempt to justify this decision as deference to Congress or respect for our courts is disingenuous, at best.  It strains credulity that a President who signed 90 executive actions in his first 100 days actions suddenly cares about deference to the Legislative Branch.  And it borders on laughable that a President who doggedly defends a Muslim ban found likely to be unconstitutional by multiple courts, is now cautious about the litigation risk of defending DACA in court.

DREAMers are our friends and our neighbors.  They are students in our schools and universities.  They serve our country in the military and as first responders.  Consider, for example, Jesus Contreras, a Houston-based paramedic who saved several lives during Hurricane Harvey.  The President’s decision to end DACA is nothing but a cynical ploy to rally the anti-immigrant voices within his base while attempting to escape responsibility for deporting some of the most inspiring Americans in our country.

Just yesterday I received a letter from Dr. Juan Conde, a DACA recipient and a resident of Vermont.  Dr. Conde was brought to the United States by his mother as a child.  In 2007, his mother was tragically taken by cancer, inspiring him to find a way to help cancer patients like her.  Unable to pursue his dream of becoming an oncologist due to his immigration status, he initially decided to pursue a Ph.D. in cancer research.  But Dr. Conde wanted to treat cancer patients, not just study the disease.  After receiving DACA status, he was able to pursue his dream of directly helping patients, applying to and being accepted into the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, where he is currently pursuing his medical degree.  He hopes to spend his career here in the United States treating cancer patients and researching the disease that has taken the lives of millions of Americans.

Dr. Conde is the face of DACA.  DREAMers have enormous potential and determination to contribute to the only country they have known as home since childhood.  To deny them these opportunities because they were brought here as children by their parents is senseless and cruel, motivated more by the toxic xenophobia of this administration than by any coherent policy goals.  Stories like Dr. Conde’s reveal why President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is as senseless as it is callous. 

But now the fate of DACA is in the hands of Congress — in the hands of the Republican leadership.  Some Republicans have spoken out against the President’s decision.  But their words ring hollow if they are not ready to act upon them.  Democrats stand ready to protect our nation’s DREAMers and defend the American dream.  I hope that we do not stand alone. 

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