OKLAHOMA CITY - The end of DACA, an Obama-era program that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to remain in the country, leaves room for question for thousands of people.
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday it is ending the program while also giving Congress a six-month window to possibly revamp and save it. Under the plan, the Trump administration will stop considering new applications for legal status dated after Tuesday but will allow any DACA recipients with a permit set to expire before March 5, 2018 the opportunity to apply for a two-year renewal.
It was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who suggested the United States needs to set a limit on the number of immigrants admitted into the country each year.
"As Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure the laws of the United States are enforced and the constitutional order is upheld," Sessions said. "This does not mean they [immigrants] are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them."
Sessions went on to say DACA had denied jobs to "hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs."
"No greater good can be done for the overall health of and well-being of our Republic than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed," he explained.
Steven Langer, an immigration attorney in Oklahoma City, said the ruling means there's a lot of uncertainty facing the roughly 800,000 recipients of DACA. The program was established in 2012 and, to date, it has allowed nearly 7,000 people in Oklahoma to live and work in the country legally.
"It means they have a lot of worry. They wonder what’s going to happen with their future," Langer said. "How are they going to support their families? How are they going to be able to pay for their educational expenses?"
Bryan Avalos, 18, said he was brought into the United States from Mexico as an infant. His mother applied for his DACA status when he was in 8th grade.
"I’m very grateful for the opportunity it’s given me. I got to go to school. I got to stay here longer than a lot of people might of, made a lot of connections with school… work, anything," Avalos said.
When asked whether he was worried after Tuesday's decision, he answered, "Throughout the day, people tend not to worry too much but, when you hear it and it comes into your head… it gets you thinking. Once it gets you thinking, you’re just starting to think like, okay, where am I going to be in five, six years? Am I going to working? Am I going to be even in the states?"
Langer says the process of becoming a citizen is anything but simple. It could up to $7,500 per applicant; however, cost is not the main factor. Instead, he tells News 4 it's the limited pathways.
"Unfortunately, part of my day every day is telling people, 'There’s no pathway for you. Come back and see me if there is an amnesty or go back to your home country. Those are your two choices'" he explained.
In a statement, Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma said he believes Sessions is correct in the sense of the White House is responsible for immigration enforcement, not immigration policy; however, "we as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parent. In the coming months, Congress must address this issue."
In response to Tuesday's announcement, OKCPS superintendent Aurora Lora says she is reminding all students and staff "You are valued. You are welcome. You are safe. I urge our federal leaders to come to a swift, bipartisan solution to provide a pathway for our Dreamers to continue to contribute to their classrooms and jobs in the only home many of them have known."
Trump, in a lengthy statement issued after Sessions' remarks, said it was "in the best interests of our country" to "begin an orderly transition and wind-down of DACA, one that provides minimum disruption."