Bay Area politicians and immigrant advocacy groups sharply condemned a decision by President Donald Trump's administration Tuesday morning to end a U.S. immigration policy that granted deportation relief and work permits to nearly 800,000 young people across the country -- an estimated 24,000 of whom live here in Santa Clara County.
At the grassroots level, a candlelight vigil held in downtown Mountain View on Tuesday night drew a peaceful crowd of about 500 people offering testimonials and support for the so-called Dreamers who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Launched under former President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA provides temporary legal status for immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have lived in the U.S. for years. Despite support from both sides of the aisle to preserve DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that it would be phased out with a "winding down" period, giving Congress a chance to preserve its protections "should it so choose."
Together We Will Palo Alto/Mountain View organized the vigil in downtown Mountain View in solidarity with immigrants who are "being silenced in the face of fear" and could face deportation without DACA protections, according an announcement by the group. The group teamed up with the Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN), and the event drew people from all over the Peninsula and San Jose.
The rally, which included a march to Mountain View's Civic Center Plaza, included testimonials from young DACA recipients and words of advice from supporters.
Steve Blasberg, a math instructor at West Valley College, read a statement from Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the chancellor of California's community colleges.
"Ending DACA is a heartless and senseless decision that goes against American ideals and basic human decency," he said, pledging to support all students, regardless of immigration status. "We will do all within our power to assist students affected by this decision, and we will advocate tirelessly in Congress for a permanent resolution to this issue."
Sessions, who referred to DACA recipients as illegal aliens three times, said the Obama-era immigration policy amounted to "unilateral executive amnesty" that denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans and largely dismissed federal immigration laws. He claimed the program also resulted in a surge of unaccompanied minors across the southern border into the country, resulting in "terrible humanitarian consequences."
"Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering," he said. "Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism."
Almost immediately, Bay Area elected officials slammed the decision. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi issued a statement calling the decision shameful, cowardly, and a "despicable assault" on innocent young people. Deporting so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age, would amount to destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of patriotic young people and cost the economy billions of dollars, she said.
Mountain View's representative, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, referred to DACA as a ray of hope for children who are American "in every way except on paper."
"President Trump's decision today to terminate this program diminishes the hope for the bright young Dreamers who now call America home."
DACA recipients are often referred to as "Dreamers," based on the never-passed DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections.
Sundar Pinchai, the CEO of Mountain View-based Google, weighed in with a statement on his Twitter feed.
"Dreamers are our neighbors, our friends and our co-workers. This is their home. Congress needs to act now to #DefendDACA," he said.
At a press conference in Sacramento Tuesday morning, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Trump's decision showed "callousness and cowardliness," pointing out that Trump avoided making the announcement personally and "didn't even have the courage to speak to his decision." Padilla said the immigrants who benefit from DACA are not drug dealers or rapists -- referring to the rhetoric used by Trump on the campaign trail last year -- but are students and members of the workforce. Many are business owners, and 16 percent are homeowners.
"They are productive members of our communities contributing to society and contributing to our economy," he said.
In a letter to President Trump prior to the announcement Tuesday, Silicon Valley Leadership Group President and CEO Carl Guardino urged Trump to allow DACA to continue, saying that the Bay Area's robust tech economy relies on the program's recipients as a "domestic source of intellectual capital." More than one-quarter of DACA recipients are pursuing post-secondary education, he said, putting them in a good position to join tech companies, from startups to global corporations.
"Immigration has long been a source of strength for America's innovation economy, and DACA recipients contribute to this economic vitality," Guardino said in the letter.
The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District issued a statement denouncing the decision to suspend DACA, pointing out that about one-third of California's DACA recipients are high school students.
"The MVLA High School District enrolls all eligible students regardless of citizenship or immigration status. We stand with our DACA students and their families. You are safe on our campuses and we will continue to support your dreams and dignity," said Superintendent Jeff Harding.
One of the main arguments cited by opponents of DACA is that the program was done without congressional approval, and that the Obama administration subverted the legislative process by enacting the program after House Republicans torpedoed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Sessions called DACA a legal liability in the announcement, and that it was facing "imminent litigation" from numerous states.
"Ending the previous administration's disrespect for the legislative process is an important first step," he said.
Although Sessions referred to DACA recipients as "mostly adults," a nation-wide survey of about 3,000 DACA recipients, conducted last month, found that the average age of the people who benefit from the program is 25 years old, and that the average age when they arrived in the country was 6.5 years old.
Data from the Migration Policy Institute found that 24,000 young people in Santa Clara County are eligible for at least some protection under DACA, and that 77 percent came from Mexico and Central American countries.