WASHINGTON — Several Louisiana Republicans in Congress joined President Donald Trump in blasting Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, for executive overreach in setting up a program to shield those brought into the country illegally as children from deportation.
But mixed with the sharp-tongued criticism of Obama’s executive actions were some words of sympathy for the young immigrants, often called "Dreamers," who’d been given temporary legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Their comments preview potentially fraught wrangling in both Republican-controlled chambers of Congress to address the status of the DACA immigrants in law. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced Tuesday the administration was delaying the cancellation of the program by six months to give federal lawmakers time to act.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, expressed sympathy for the plight of the young immigrants — noting many fled trying circumstances in their home countries and that, "for the most part," DACA recipients "contribute to society." But Abraham said he couldn't overlook their illegal arrival or what he viewed as the unconstitutionality of the program, which he contended usurped congressional authority.
“Knowing that children cannot be blamed for the acts of their parents, we are looking for solutions that will rectify our country’s misguided immigration policy,” Abraham added. “We will enter into these discussions both with an open mind and also with respect for the rule of law.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Metairie Republican and the House majority whip, likewise praised Trump to pushing the program back to Congress and scrapping the executive orders.
"Whip Scalise will be working closely with his colleagues to advance a legislative solution that respects the fact that America is a nation of immigrants and a nation that enforces its laws," said Lauren Fine, a Scalise spokeswoman.
Fine declined to say whether Scalise would push for legal status for DACA recipients in any potential immigration legislation. Abraham and U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, also didn’t indicate whether they’d support passing protections for DACA recipients into law.
Obama created the DACA program in 2012 by executive action after legislation to overhaul the immigration system died in Congress.
Offices for other Louisiana Republicans — U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, as well as U.S. Reps. Garret Graves and Clay Higgins — didn’t address questions about DACA on Tuesday, which also marked the end of Congress’ August recess.
Trump’s announcement drew swift condemnation from Democrats as well as some fellow Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who’d backed unsuccessful efforts at immigration reform in 2012 and 2013. The Catholic Church also harshly condemned the move, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling DACA’s cancellation “reprehensible” and against the teachings of scripture.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, Louisiana’s lone Democrat in Washington and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had pledged to defend the DACA program in a series of tweets over the past week as rumors of the Trump administration's looming decision on the program swirled.
Richmond on Tuesday excoriated Trump’s move, riffing on the president’s campaign slogan by saying that cancelling DACA again showed Trump’s “ignorance of what makes America great in the first place and the very people who contribute to that greatness.”
“His morally bankrupt policy will tear young people, folks who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, away from their families and the only home they’ve ever known,” Richmond added.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who’s frequently highlighted immigration issues since taking office at the beginning of 2016, was among a group of 11 state attorneys general who’d threatened the Trump administration with lawsuits if the president didn’t outline a plan to end DACA by this week.
Landry took to Twitter on Tuesday to praise the announcement,
“I am glad (President Trump) is defending the separation of powers, preserving the rule of law and ending the unconstitutional DACA program,” Landry tweeted.
Others in Louisiana pointed to the potential economic costs of ending the program for about 2,000 undocumented immigrants in the state, many of whom have obtained degrees and are now employed. Jan Moller, with the Louisiana Budget Project, called it a “shameful and cruel political decision” with ramifications for the state’s budget and broader economy. Moller pointed to a study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, that placed the annual hit to Louisiana’s GDP from ending DACA at just over $90 million.
"It’s a shame that immigrant families keep getting caught up in American politics, especially when study after study shows they’re an economic benefit to this country, even those who are undocumented," said David Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. "They pay taxes and increase our nation’s economic productivity."
"The Catholic church has long taught that immigration is a human right, and our country has long supported immigration goals that keep families intact," Aguillard added. "We are an immigrant nation. Politics that try to turn us against one another undermine our traditions and damage our nation."
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White, meanwhile, also took to Twitter to respond to the news.
“Arrived as children. Educated by Americans to be Americans. Graduated from our schools,” White said. “The right thing is a long-term path for these grads.”
Advocate staff reporter Caroline Grueskin contributed to this report.