Policy

GOP Eyes Fix for Immigration Program Targeted by Trump

Democrats say they’re ready to work with Republicans to find solution for Dreamers

Hundreds of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally and march to Trump Tower in New York to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, last week. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s reported decision to end an Obama-era immigration program that protects 800,000 undocumented young people from deportation adds to a lengthy to-do list already challenging Republican leaders. 

Politico and The Associated Press, citing unnamed sources, reported late Sunday that Trump plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in six months. The sources were granted anonymity to speak freely ahead of Tuesday’s planned announcement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to address the DACA program at an 11 a.m. briefing and will take no questions. 

The delay ostensibly offers Congress a window to craft and pass legislation that would permanently address the plight of so-called Dreamers brought illegally to the United States before their 16th birthday. If they are enrolled in DACA, they cannot be deported for two years if they enroll in school, keep a job or serve in the military while maintaining a clean criminal record.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who has introduced two bills with Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois, aimed at granting permanent lawful status to Dreamers, said in a statement Monday that he is ready to legislate. 

“I have always believed DACA was a presidential overreach,” said Graham, a member of the “Gang of Eight” in 2013 that pushed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill through the Senate. “However, I equally understand the plight of the Dream Act kids who — for all practical purposes — know no country other than America. If President Trump makes this decision we will work to find a legislative solution to their dilemma.”

Finding time on the legislative calendar, however, could pose a challenge. Congress needs to keep the government running past Sept. 30, raise the debt limit to ensure the nation can pay its bills, and pass the first of what could be several emergency funding measures to provide relief from Hurricane Harvey.

There is also the push for a tax overhaul, as well as looming deadlines to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program, among others.

Bipartisan versions of the Senate bills have already been introduced in the House. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has been open previously to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, indicated last week he supports a legislative solution

Ryan told a local Wisconsin radio station on Friday said that while he preferred the president would not end DACA, he believes “that this is something Congress has to fix.”

Graham got a boost from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, who indicated he supports a legal path for Dreamers — if it is paired with other immigration overhaul measures.

“I’ll be working closely with my colleagues in Congress and with the administration to pass meaningful immigration reform that will secure our borders, provide a workable path forward for the Dreamer population, and ensure that employers have access to the high-skilled workers they need to succeed in our technology-driven economy,” Hatch said in a statement Friday.

And Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, an ardent immigration hawk, also appeared ready to deal. He told the Washington Examiner over the weekend that he would support giving Dreamers green cards if Congress passed a mandatory E-Verify program as well as his bill to overhaul the legal immigration system and keep DACA recipients from bringing unskilled relatives to the United States. 

E-Verify is a voluntary program that allows employers to check the legal status of their workers. 

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, said on Twitter that he plans to file a discharge petition that would force a vote on a House version of the Durbin-Graham bill. Coffman represents a House district won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he is being targeted for defeat by Democrats. 

Democrats who eviscerated Trump on social media for his apparent decision to end the immigration program said they stand ready to work with Republicans.

“Dear Republicans, your moment has come,” tweeted Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Connecticut, on Sunday night. “Every Democrat will join you. Show the courage and grace to save these children, and our nation.”

Unanswered questions

Left unclear on Tuesday morning is how the Homeland Security Department, which oversees DACA, would phase out the program.

In addition to the roughly 800,000 Dreamers already enrolled, another 31,000 have filed applications for the first time. The administration could choose to not consider pending or future applications while continuing to renew existing benefits, or it could allow current beneficiaries to remain covered until their work permits expire. 

Since DACA benefits are renewable every two years, some Dreamers are now in the midst of their third term in the program.

There are also questions about whether the administration would target Dreamers for deportation. Trump has expressed sympathy for them, and his aides have said that DACA enrollees are not a priority for removal. But immigration authorities have arrested some of the program’s enrollees on suspicion of involvement with criminal gangs.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, has offered an amendment to an eight-bill appropriations package that would defund any effort to deport Dreamers. 

It also is unclear how ending DACA might affect the economy. An August report by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and FWD.us, a pro-immigration group founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, found that 1,400 beneficiaries could lose their jobs each day that the administration stops issuing renewed work permits.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday that he is “less concerned about the economic impact,” adding that “we have plenty of workers in this economy.” 

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, took to Twitter on Sunday night to express support for 250 of his Dreamer employees.

“I stand with them,” he said. “They deserve our respect as equals and a solution rooted in American values.”

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