WASHINGTON ― A group of Democrats is trying everything it can to protect young undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation under President-elect Donald Trump ― even if it means aiming some fire at President Barack Obama.
The question of whether to put pressure on Obama is something immigration leaders in the House, Senate and White House are split on. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is working with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on a bill to extend a reprieve for so-called Dreamers, says Trump should be their target. The White House agrees.
House Democrats, though, aren’t dropping their pressure on Obama, including asking him for a second time on Wednesday to pardon the more than 740,000 Dreamers who received work authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Some of those Democrats are making it personal.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that if Obama leaves office without doing more to protect Dreamers, it could taint the biggest immigration accomplishment of his presidency and give people “a strong argument” that he created DACA for political reasons.
“Look, if he only stands up in 2012, when he’s running for reelection, and doesn’t stand up now while he’s leaving,” Gutierrez said, trailing off. “He’s got to do something for them other than to simply say, ‘Oh, I talked to the president-elect and told him it would be an unwise idea.’ Do more. Gather them together. Use the bully pulpit to show who they are. Call them together. Do more. He’s not doing enough.”
Gutierrez said that help could take multiple forms, and he and other House Democrats are pursuing other ways to protect DACA recipients, including urging Obama to sign an executive order saying DACA information can’t be used for other purposes, namely deportation. They realize that Trump could overturn the order but argue that he might not because he wouldn’t want to be seen as targeting Dreamers.
Trump told Time Magazine, in an interview published Wednesday, that he will “work something out” for Dreamers, although he did not take back his plan to end DACA or offer any detail on what that “something” would be. Democrats said they found his comments encouraging.
Barack Obama, believe me, his administration has looked at every option, every conceivable legal option, to protect those who have DACA status, and they don’t have it. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Gutierrez and other House Democrats promised at a Wednesday news conference to fight any efforts under Trump to deport Dreamers or target undocumented communities. But they are also continuing to press Obama for pardons, in spite of the administration’s resistance.
On Wednesday, 64 House Democrats signed a letter to Obama repeating their request that he issue pardons to DACA recipients. The idea is that Obama could pardon them for the civil offense of being in the U.S. without authorization and that he could do it in a way that would also apply to future unlawful presence.
Whether that option is feasible is up for debate. The Democrats provided examples that they say prove it is, but some legal experts disagree. Durbin dismissed the pardon idea as unworkable on Tuesday.
“You’re taking your eye off the ball,” Durbin said he told Gutierrez and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), another leader of the pardon effort, along with Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.).
“Barack Obama, believe me, his administration has looked at every option, every conceivable legal option, to protect those who have DACA status, and they don’t have it,” Durbin told reporters.
He added that he told Lofgren, “This is not the right way to go. It’s not going to work.”
At the House Democrats’ Wednesday news conference, Gutierrez said he respectfully disagrees.
“But in the end, he wants to keep them here as much as I do, and we’re going to work together,” he said of Durbin. “All of us are going to approach this through different avenues, and I know that Sen. Durbin is fighting really, really hard, and I know what’s in his heart, and he knows what’s in my heart.”
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that DACA was an executive action that could be changed by another executive.
“I know people are hoping that pardon authority is a way to protect people,” Muñoz said on a Center for Migration Studies podcast. “It’s ultimately not, for a couple of reasons: One is that pardon authority is generally designed for criminal violations, not civil, but also it doesn’t confer legal status. Only Congress can do that. So ultimately it wouldn’t protect a single soul from deportation.”