Maine Attorney General Janet Mills is challenging President Trump’s rollback of deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, saying that sending people back to war-torn countries “is a threat to justice itself” and would harm the Maine economy.

Mills joined California and two other states Monday in a lawsuit that seeks to block the administration’s decision last week to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Mills had previously denounced the decision to end DACA and is now among 20 attorneys general nationwide challenging Trump’s move in two lawsuits. She issued a statement Wednesday explaining her decision to join the lawsuit.

The Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate said Wednesday night that Trump had agreed to work with them on an agreement that would protect the nation’s “dreamers” from deportation.

Under DACA, which President Obama created via executive order in 2012, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children can obtain a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation. They can then legally live and work in the U.S. as long as they stay out of legal trouble and have their DACA status renewed periodically.

Federal officials had granted 95 initial DACA applications to residents of Maine as of the first quarter of 2017. An unknown number of other DACA recipients are attending colleges in Maine. Those in Maine represent a tiny fraction of the estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide who have sought protection under DACA since the program began. The total includes roughly 200,000 immigrants in California, whose attorney general, Xavier Becerra, led the lawsuit that Mills joined.

“While the impact of the president’s action may not be as big statistically in Maine as it is in California, the threat to Maine’s economy is real and the threat of sending hundreds of young people back to war-torn countries they never knew is a threat to justice itself,” said Mills, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2018.

On Sept. 5, the Trump administration announced it would no longer accept DACA applications and that permits for existing DACA recipients could expire in six months unless Congress acts. Trump and some conservative allies have said Obama abused his executive authority by offering so-called “dreamers” – immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children – temporary legal status without going through Congress.

Although DACA had bipartisan support, it is unclear whether the Republican-controlled Congress will pass legislation putting the program into statute given the political polarization over immigration and the lengthy list of other issues pending in Washington. The issue has divided state attorneys general largely along political lines.

Last summer, 10 Republican attorneys general had threatened to sue the Trump administration if it did not stop protecting “dreamers” from deportation. Republican states had already successfully used the courts to block Obama from implementing a more sweeping version of DACA.

After Trump’s Sept. 5 decision, however, 15 states plus the District of Columbia filed suit seeking to protect DACA. That number has now risen to 20 with the additional lawsuit filed Monday by the attorneys general of California, Maryland, Minnesota and Maine.

In the latest suit, the four states argue that the Trump administration violates DACA recipients’ constitutional rights on several fronts while ignoring federal administrative processes required for such a substantial change. They also argued that deporting DACA recipients or applicants will harm their states economically by removing workers and the taxes they generate.

Mills estimated in the lawsuit that the policy change would result in a $3.97 million loss in Maine’s annual gross domestic product and a $96,000 loss in local and state taxes, and would complicate Maine’s efforts to attract younger workers.

The Trump administration’s “rescission of DACA will result in Maine’s grantees losing their jobs and ability to attend college and graduate institutions,” reads the lawsuit’s section on Maine. “Many businesses will lose valued workers. Rescission of work authorization will threaten DACA grantees’ ability to support themselves and their families, and the forced separation of Maine families that will result from DACA’s rescission will further jeopardize the health and well-being of Maine residents.”

The office of Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has clashed repeatedly with Maine’s Democratic attorney general, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Sue Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine, said she was encouraged to see Maine join other states challenging the Trump administration’s position on DACA. Roche said the Obama-era policy encouraged immigrants in Maine to pursue college degrees and jobs that are contributing to Maine’s economy while giving them a sense they could contribute to their local communities without fear of deportation.

Now, many of those DACA participants “feel like the rug has been pulled out from under their feet,” Roche said.

“For the last two weeks, we have been hearing from a lot of our clients, and we have also been reaching out to clients to assist them with renewals” or other DACA-related issues, said Roche, whose Portland-based nonprofit provides legal assistance to immigrants. “Everyone is very concerned. These are kids who came out of the woodwork, if you will, and thought they were following the law.”

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation – Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent Sen. Angus King – have said Congress needs to pass legislation to protect such immigrants from deportation.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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