The Trump administration has rescinded the Obama-era program that allowed some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to work and avoid deportation.

Today Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program, which he called unconstitutional, would wind down within six months. He pointed to Congress as the only body that can legitimately help those affected by the decision. Former President Obama created the program by executive order in 2012.

California is home to the largest contingent of youths aided by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, with 238,000 of the nation’s 800,000 recipients, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Response from California Democratic leaders, who support the program partly as a boon to the state economy, was swift.  

The decision is “xenophobic” and a “meek acquiescence” to Sessions, said Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles. Sessions has been a fierce opponent of the program from its inception. “In the coming weeks,” De Leon said in a statement, “the California Senate will work to ensure DACA students can continue to earn income to support their educational dreams.”

It’s unclear what the state Legislature can do in the two weeks left in its 2017 session. But a pending bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, may help DACA students stay in school, even though the state cannot resolve their legal status.

Lara put the bill in motion anticipating that President Trump would cancel the program.

“Ending DACA puts the futures of thousands of people in jeopardy who are going to school and working just as we asked them to,” he said in a statement. “Trump, whose companies continue to import workers from abroad, is a cynical manipulator. Republicans’ unrelenting assault on immigrants, and especially Latinos, is awakening a generation of young Americans to the threat to our country’s diversity and economic future.”

The bill, SB 573, would allow undocumented students to do volunteer service on their campuses to earn grants or reimbursement for their education costs. The bill passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly.

California leaders had been lobbying the administration for weeks to continue the DACA program. Gov. Brown wrote in an August letter to Trump: “To uproot these people from the only country they have known as home is to turn our back on the future … It is cruel and it runs counter to the ideals this country was founded on.”

The state has spent $15 million to help those who are eligible to apply for the program or become naturalized citizens.  The current state budget allocated an additional $45 million for legal help for those facing deportation and other problems related to their immigration status.

In Washington, shortly after Sessions’ announcement, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced the latest version of a federal DREAM Act. It would allow those brought to the U.S. illegally as children a path toward citizenship. A similar bill died in Congress in 2012, leading to DACA’s creation.

Trump was facing increasing pressure to dump the program. Attorneys general in Texas and nine other states had threatened to sue the federal government if the president did not cancel it.

Within the next six months, people with expiring Deferred Action status can apply to renew their permits for another two years.

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Elizabeth Aguilera

Elizabeth Aguilera is an award-winning multimedia journalist who covers health and social services for CalMatters. She joined CalMatters in 2016 from Southern California Public Radio/KPCC 89.3 where she...