WASHINGTON (CN) – Several moderate Republicans have written a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him not to do away with protections for children who have been brought into the United States illegally.
In the letter, which was made public on Thursday, representatives Dan Donovan of New York, Don Bacon of Nebraska, Ileana Ross Lehtinen of Washington, D.C., Carlos Curbelo of Florida, and Jeff Denham and David Valadao of California, ask the president to avoid rescinding the protections laid out in DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
At least until Congress is able to pass immigration reform.
“Children brought to the United States at a young age did not have a choice in the matter,” they say. “Such cases require careful and thoughtful analysis about what is in the best interests of our country.”
Instead, the lawmakers encouraged the president to focus his efforts elsewhere.
“We strongly support your commitment to deporting those who have broken our laws and we believe the resources that might be directed towards targeting those with DACA status would be better spent on targeting criminals,” the letter said.
Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a statement Thursday responding to the administration’s possible shift away from the DACA program.
“We have 800,000 examples of why DACA strengthens America and why this program should stay in place,” she said. “DACA is successful, popular, constitutional and should stay on the books until Congress passes a clean legislative solution to address Dreamers’ status.”
Participants in the program are often referred to as Dreamers, a term originating from the 2010 Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., and Rep. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, died in the house but the nomenclature stuck. Dreamers are not just children. The term generally refers to any illegal aliens under the age of 35 seeking amnesty.
On Friday, a number of published reports said President Donald Trump appears likely to pull the plug on DACA.
Administration officials said the Department of Homeland Security sent a recommendation to the White House earlier this week on what to do, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed the program with senior officials Thursday at the White House. Sessions has been a consistent opponent of the program, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
But during her daily press briefing on Friday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was circumspect on the issue. “The administration has indicated several times before that the DACA program is under review. It continues to be under review, and when we have an announcement on it, we’ll let you guys know,” she said.
What is known is that the Trump administration faces two strongly opposed forces on amnesty.
One side is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general, as well as Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter.
Paxton and the others submitted a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June, demanding the president rescind the program and cease issuing DACA permits by September 5 or prepare to defend it in court.
The scenario may seem familiar. The same officials now seeking the end of DACA also duked it out in a federal court in Texas in 2014 when seeking an end to DAPA or the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.
The program was expected to shield nearly 4 million parents of U.S. citizen and green card holders from deportation.
Only one lawmaker who signed the August 22 letter – Don Bacon of Nebraska – hails from a state currently threatening to challenge DACA in court.
Twenty attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, asked Trump in July to keep the Obama-era program in place. To sweeten the deal, the attorneys general also offered their legal counsel to the White House should it find itself defending DACA in court.
One possible compromise laid out in the Thursday’s letter would be a bill introduced by Rep. Curbelo: the Recognizing America’s Children Act.
The legislation proposes pathways for young, undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children in order to gain legal status. It has 18 GOP cosponsors but has yet to pick up any legislative steam.
In an interview over email Friday morning, Dave Ray, the spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he thinks Curbelo’s bill has “zero chance of going anywhere” and is more akin to a “public relations stunt than a real legislative vehicle.”
Ray went on to offer his own suggestion on how to approach immigration reform.
“Perhaps instead [of] focusing on amnesties for illegal aliens, Rep. Curbelo should focus on enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, which is what the public wants,” he wrote.
The president’s long term plans for DACA are unclear, but Ray the program’s days are numbered.
“If President Trump does not rescind it, or allowed it to lapse, Texas and nine other states have indicated that they will challenge DACA in the courts,” he said. “DAPA, another Obama era illegal amnesty that would have provided relief from deportation for illegal alien parents, was ruled unconstitutional and the decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court in a 4-4 vote.
“Several members of the Trump administration and FAIR both believe that the original DACA program is unconstitutional for the exact same reasons as DAPA,” he said. “With the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the bench it is likely that a legal challenge to the original DACA program would not only be ruled unconstitutional, but that the 5-4 ruling would be a precedent setting one.”
Ray said FAIR disagrees with the GOP moderates on the wisdom of preserving DACA or “any other form of amnesty because it’s simply bad public policy that not only rewards illegal behavior with a highly coveted green card, but will actually incentivize future illegal immigration.”
“DACA is a perfect case in point,” he said. “Almost immediately after it was implemented, we saw the onset of the surge of unaccompanied minors (many of whom are believed not to be minors) and families with children at the southern border. Little had changed in those countries – there has long been poverty, civil unrest, and violence in Central America. What changed was the perception that if you arrived in the U.S. as a minor we’d allow you to stay and eventually grant you some form of legal status,” he wrote. “If the premise of DACA or the DREAM Act or any other amnesty is that we have an ethical obligation to allow people who came or were brought here in the past as minors to remain, we will have that same obligation to future waves of minors who come or are brought here.”