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Story highlights

The Trump administration will give Congress six months to pass legislation

"The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach," Sessions said

CNN  — 

For many college students, Tuesday marked the start of a new semester of classes. For those students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, it also ushered in an uncertain future about their status in the United States.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA, leaders from some of the nation’s top higher education institutions have come forward to slam the decision – and to assure their undocumented students that they will be protected on campus.

President Donald Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, condemned the decision in a statement from President Amy Gutmann, saying “this is a heartbreaking day for our country.”

“President Trump’s decision to repeal the DACA program threatens hundreds of thousands of young people who were raised in America, love this country and are an integral part of the American Dream,” Gutmann said in the statement.

Under the DACA program, nearly 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the US as children were shielded from immediate deportation and given the opportunity to work or attend school.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions determined that the program would not be likely to withstand a court challenge, he said.

“The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, (and) enforce our laws.”

The Trump administration will give Congress six months to pass legislation to keep DACA’s protections in place.

Penn declared itself a “sanctuary campus” in November 2016, announcing at the time that it would not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection or US Citizenship and Immigration Services agents onto campus unless required by warrant. The university reiterated in their statement Tuesday that they would “do everything (they) can to support and assist the Dream Act students who are valued members of our community. Other Ivy League universities joined Penn in condemning the decision, including Columbia, Harvard and Cornell.

Harvard said it does not consider immigration status as part of its admissions and financial aid process. While it is not a “sanctuary campus,” the university noted that it “does not voluntarily share information on the immigration status of undocumented community members, and federal officials attempting to enforce immigration laws on campus are required to obtain a judicial warrant.”

Harvard Law School offers immigration-related legal services, according to the statement.

Amherst College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin said the decision to rescind DACA was “reprehensible.” She added that the college would not share immigration status information with ICE without a subpoena, and campus police would “not take part in actions with ICE.”

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, now the president of the University of California system, said she was “deeply troubled” by the decision, adding “this backward-thinking, far-reaching move threatens to separate families and derail the futures of some of this country’s brightest young minds, thousands of whom currently attend or have graduated from the University of California.”

She said the UC schools would continue to offer in-state tuition to resident undocumented students and directed campus police “not to contact, detain, question or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status, or to enter agreements to undertake joint efforts to make arrests for federal immigration law violations.”

Prior to the President’s decision, more than 640 college and university presidents signed on to a letter of support for DACA.

“We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community,” the letter said. “They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”

CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.