The potential end of a federal citizenship program was called "cruel" by some Indiana officials but seen as an opportunity for immigration reform.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the Trump administration's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving a six-month time frame for Congress to draft its own immigration proposal, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was a cruel and heartless blow to vulnerable young citizens who want nothing more than a chance at the American dream," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.
The DACA program, which former President Obama created in 2012, has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the form of two-year, renewable work permits.
"Instead of creating a path to citizenship for the 800,000 youths in this program, as promised, President Trump has decided to punish those who did step forward through the threat of deportation from the only country they have ever known," McDermott said. "Maybe President Trump needs to be reminded that most of our ancestors came to this country by boat? In fact, this diversity of cultures is one of the things that makes America so great."
Those who signed up for the DACA program trusted in the government to create a legal path toward citizenship, McDermott said. They also were vetted for criminal history or threats to national security and had to be students or in the military, McDermott said adding that their status had to be renewed every two years.
"I am disappointed that the administration appears to once again be moving away from a policy that seems fair, just and to be indicative of good business and good government," Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, said in a statement. "I am optimistic that this provides an opportunity for Congress to act, not just to legislate DACA, but to create comprehensive immigration reform that meets the needs of employers, communities and current and future citizens."
The Gary Common Council in May passed a "Welcoming City" measure. The ordinance declared that Gary officials won't question a resident's immigration status during interactions with members of a city department.
"Upending existing protections for the nearly 10,000 young people in Indiana who have been living here for most of their lives isn't the path we should take," U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said in a statement.
"It is deeply unfortunate that the administration's action will create uncertainty and fear for those enrolled in the DACA program who are innocent of the actions that brought them to the United States and who have obeyed our laws," U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said in a statement. "The status of these participants should be dealt with as part of a comprehensive plan and not in the manner announced today."
Now in Congress' hands, members of Indiana's Washington delegation agreed it's time to look at a comprehensive immigration plan.
"I have long supported a comprehensive immigration solution that would aim to improve national security by strengthening border protections, limit wage competition by holding employers who hire undocumented workers accountable, and promote public safety by bringing those immigrants already contributing to our communities out of the shadows through an earned path to citizenship," Visclosky said in a statement.
"Our country is still in need of reforms to fix our immigration system and strengthen border security, but in the interim we should pass bipartisan legislation to give these young people, who were brought here through no fault of their own, some clarity and stability," Donnelly said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said Congress must address immigration policy.
"I continue to believe we must secure our southern border and fix our broken immigration system," Young said. "Irrespective of today's announcement, that requires a bipartisan solution in Congress that reforms our legal immigration system, prevents illegal immigration, and addresses the question of what to do with undocumented men, women and children already here."
McDermott said he hopes that Congress intervenes and puts the 800,000 people on a legal path toward citizenship.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb echoed the call for an immigration policy overhaul.
"Congress needs to do its job and act quickly," Stephanie Wilson, Holcomb's press secretary, said in an email.
Visclosky said anyone in Northwest Indiana wanting information or help with a pending application should contact his Merrillville office.