KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
When we talk about the program known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, we say the number 800,000. That's the number of people covered by the Obama-era program that President Trump ended last week. A quarter of those recipients, 200,000 of them, live here in California. That's part of the reason the state is now suing the Trump administration for rescinding DACA.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the move is unconstitutional, and he is with us now. Welcome to the show.
XAVIER BECERRA: Thanks, Kelly.
MCEVERS: Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already filed suit against the federal government last week over this same issue. Why not join them? Why file your own lawsuit?
BECERRA: Our complaint is slightly different. But generally speaking, you're going to find that the suits that are filed against the federal government essentially say the same thing. The Trump administration acted unconstitutionally and unlawfully in terminating a program that's been a great boom for our economy in the country and certainly has helped 800,000 people no longer have to live in the shadows.
MCEVERS: What do you say to those people who say that DACA itself was illegal?
BECERRA: Well, I think it's been tested over time. It's been proven not only to be successful, but certainly fit within American values, and I would say fully lawful because we've seen previous presidents from Eisenhower on forward do the same thing.
MCEVERS: Right. It has been tested. But I guess it would be good for our listeners to hear if you could explain the legal argument here. What is the legal argument you're making in your suit?
BECERRA: Well, the termination was done in ways that affect people's due process rights, violates their equal protection under the laws, violates federal statutes and the way that our government goes about making changes and setting forward rules that everyone must abide by. And certainly there's a strong claim that the federal government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in terminating this program that some 800,000-plus people in this country have relied upon to their detriment in order to be able to come out of the shadows.
MCEVERS: California has the highest population of DACA recipients in the country. In addition to lawsuits, what can the state do to protect these people?
BECERRA: Well, we are doing all we can to make sure that we are abiding by all federal laws when it comes to immigration. But we're not in the deportation business. We're in the public safety business. We'll leave the work on immigration to the federal authorities. And we'll make sure the federal authorities don't try to coerce us to do their work for them by denying us funds simply because we want to focus on public safety.
MCEVERS: What if they do deny the funds?
BECERRA: Well, we'll go to court, as we have already.
MCEVERS: The University of California system announced last week that they would be suing the Trump administration, too. Do you plan to work with them?
BECERRA: We will work with anyone who is trying to protect the rights of the American people and certainly the folks here in California. We have every right to continue the success that has become the California dream. You know, we created more jobs in 2015 than No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Texas combined. We're not going to stop. We're not interested in separating families. We're interested in making sure families feel really good about producing and building here in California.
MCEVERS: Does - is this move, this lawsuit - I mean, is it largely symbolic? Or will it have - can it have a practical effect?
BECERRA: Oh, I think this is well beyond symbolic. There is a clear case to be made that the Trump administration has violated individuals' rights under the Constitution and under federal statutes. And I believe that we will find that those young people in America who are doing things every way that we think follows the American dream are going to have that opportunity to stay out of the shadows.
MCEVERS: DREAMers, of course, being DACA recipients. Do you think Congress will act to come up with a plan for these people?
BECERRA: You know, for 24 years I had tried, along with others on a bipartisan basis, to fix our broken immigration system. It is tough. I do believe the votes are there. But you never know. And that's why we don't take any chances. And that's why we're suing the Trump administration. If Congress chooses to act, I hope that it resolves it because only Congress can resolve this in a permanent way. The DACA program is a temporary program. And while it's lawful, it is not a permanent solution, and so Congress should do its work.
MCEVERS: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, thank you very much.
BECERRA: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.