WASHINGTON – House Democrats urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to pardon DREAMers, in an effort to quash the young immigrants’ fears of deportation when incoming President Donald Trump takes office in January.
Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Luis Gutierrez, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Judy Chu said Obama has a responsibility to those young immigrants who have been protected in recent years from deportation under an executive order issued by the president.
Trump has vowed to reverse that order on his first day in office, leaving the DREAMers with targets on their backs since they had to register with the government and provide personal information, the Democrats said.
“Immigrants form the fabric of society,” said Lofgren of California. “They live in greater fear with Trump vowing to reverse the administrative action by President Obama.”
But not all lawmakers welcomed the idea of a pardon.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said in a statement Thursday that “condoning bad behavior and violating the Constitution and our laws should not be rewarded.”
“Pardoning criminals, felons and miscreants is not what the American people want and it is not in their best interests,” Gosar said in a statement released by his office. “Illegal immigration is immoral, wrong and needs to stop now. These pardons are unnecessary and condone illegal behavior and a violation of our national sovereignty.”
At issue is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 Obama policy that lets undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children work and go to school without fear of deportation. Nearly 1.3 million people have received DACA protection since the program started, according to the latest government data.
But because DACA was created by executive order and not by legislative action, it can be overturned with a stroke of the pen by Trump.
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At a news conference Monday, Obama said Trump should “think long and hard before … endangering that status of what for all practical purposes are American kids.”
Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona said even if Obama is able to pardon all those with DACA protection, questions linger about their status once Trump takes office.
“It would be wonderful if Obama is able to pardon these people,” Falcon said. “He has the authority to do so, but there is a lot that is still unknown.”
More than 2 million people are still eligible to apply for deferred deportation before Obama leaves office Jan. 20 and Falcon said they should “apply as quickly as possible,” even if that means their application is pending in January.
Gutierrez said a pardon would not give immigrants a “permanent safe place,” but it would end the “widespread and dangerous” fear sparked by the anti-immigrant rhetoric that Trump and his supporters touted throughout the campaign.
“This action is a matter of life or death,” Gutierrez of Illinois said at Thursday’s news conference. “We’re asking for the president to continue his commitment to put immigrants in a safe place.”
Lofgren agreed that pardoning DREAMers – named for the failed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – would “wash the sin” away from their illegal entry into the U.S. as children.
The call for pardons comes the same week that a host of minority leaders sat down with members of Trump’s transition team to clear the air over the campaign’s rhetoric. Falcon called such discussions a good start, but said Trump needs to demonstrate his commitment to minority groups by walking back his campaign comments.
“If he intends to repair the relationship, he has to start somewhere,” she said. “That includes leaving DACA alone, not building a (border) wall, not asking Muslims to register. He is frightening a lot of people.”
Roybal-Allard of California said that even though Obama has just weeks left in office, he can free immigrants of their “prisoner” status by pardoning them.
“By no fault of their own, these Americans are prisoners in their own country, living their daily lives, not knowing if they will be deported to a foreign country,” she said. “And make no mistake about it, if they are forced to leave the United States, it is our country that loses.”