U.S. President Donald Trump contended Tuesday that some of the young immigrants that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, allowed to stay in the country to avoid deportation are now "hardened criminals."
The U.S. leader, who won the White House in 2016 by taking a tough stance against illegal immigration, unleashed his attack on the immigrants hours before the Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The 2012 policy allowed more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants who crossed illegally into the U.S. at a young age with their parents to remain in the United States — for many, the only home country they have known.
"Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from 'angels,' Trump said on Twitter. "Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!"
Three appellate courts have ruled against Trump's decision to end the program, with about 700,000 immigrants remaining in it. Past attempts to resolve the issue legislatively have failed.
Advocates has often called the young immigrants "dreamers." To join the program or periodically renew their participation to stay in the U.S., they had to show they were upstanding residents, employed or attending school, and had not been convicted of crimes.
The DACA program accepted young immigrants if they entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and if they arrived by 2007. Studies show that more than 90% of the DACA residents are employed and nearly half are in school.
While Obama said he could not unilaterally change contentious U.S. immigration policies, he said he could prioritize enforcement, deporting convicted criminals but allowing other immigrants, such as the young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents, to stay.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency says that 2,130 of the more than 800,000 immigrants in the DACA program at one time or another have had their benefits pulled because of criminal activity. A 2017 study by the libertarian CATO Institute said that was a lower rate of incarceration than that for native-born Americans.
The Supreme Court is deciding whether Trump acted properly by shutting down DACA by labeling it illegal without offering any analysis of how it would affect immigrants. The Justice Department contends that such an analysis was not necessary, but DACA defenders say a detailed explanation was required.