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Congress gets hot potato as Trump ends ‘Dreamers’ program

September 5, 2017
In The News

President Trump was quick to toss away the hottest of political issues Tuesday, telling Congress it’s now up to lawmakers to decide the fate of the nearly 800,000 young people who could face deportation with the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday, hours before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program established in a 2012 executive order by former President Barack Obama “is being rescinded.”

The long-awaited decision, which won’t take effect until March 5, 2018, gives Congress six months to decide what to do with the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented residents brought to the country as children.

Trump’s decision roiled Congress, with Democrats calling for instant action to protect the legal status of those young immigrants. It was a tougher call for GOP leaders, who tried to walk a narrow line where they publicly agreed with Trump’s decision and also talked of the need for a congressional solution to the problem.

Last week, for example, House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he was opposed to ending DACA until Congress could work out a permanent solution. But Tuesday, he was praising Trump’s decision.

“However well-intentioned, President Obama’s DACA program was a clear abuse of executive authority, an attempt to create law out of thin air,” Ryan said in a statement. “Ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches.”

Now Congress has to act, he said, adding that “it is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”

But the reason for DACA, as Obama said in a statement Tuesday, was that after years of squabbling, Congress was unable to come up with a solution that would allow the young people, who knew no other home than the United States, to live, work and raise their families here without fear of being deported.

Now, Congress again is being called to solve that problem, only this time with a deadline looming.

“I welcome the chance to put this into statute,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. “But it’s up to the speaker to let these (immigration) bills come to the floor, which he hasn’t done before. And we need at least 25 Republicans to vote with the Democrats on this.”

Some of those GOP votes could come from California.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County) said in a statement Tuesday that Congress has to come together in the next six months.

“I will continue to advocate on behalf of Dreamers,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure those who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own are not unjustly punished.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock (Stanislaus County) joined Valadao and other Republicans last week in a letter urging Trump not to dump the program. Speaking on NPR’s “Morning Edition” Tuesday he urged Ryan and Congress to take swift action.

“Congress should not need six months,” he said. “This should be something that moves very quickly, that is very bipartisan.”

Valadao and Denham both represent Central Valley districts with large numbers of Latino residents, and are top targets of Democratic leaders seeking to take back control of Congress.

There are concerns, though, that Trump is setting up Congress to take the blame if no agreement on the Dreamers can be reached.

“That’s a cynical strategy,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont. “It’s sad that he’s having DACA recipients become a political football.”

While the president has talked about how concerned he is about the plight of the Dreamers and what a tough decision this was, he has been sending mixed signals to Congress and the nation.

On Tuesday morning, for example, Trump retweeted a post saying, “Make no mistake, we are going to put the interests of AMERICAN CITIZENS FIRST!” And instead of making the announcement of his DACA decision himself, the president sent out Sessions, a staunch opponent of almost all efforts to loosen immigration rules, to argue that the program has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens,” and that eliminating it was necessary “if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America.”

Trump also has declined to tell congressional leaders what type of action he would support — and which would receive his veto. He wasn’t any clearer in a tweet Tuesday evening in which he said, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

Trump’s hand could soon be forced, however. Democrats and some Republicans will be urging the president to back the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would allow those young immigrants to receive lawful permanent residence in the country, along with a path to citizenship.

“The DREAM Act ... deserves a vote as soon as possible,” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York were to be joined by other Democrats on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning for a news conference calling for the DREAM Act to be quickly brought to the floor of the House and the Senate for a vote.

But the president has been unwilling to support that measure in the past, and there are no indications he has changed his stance.

If Trump were serious about finding a permanent solution to the problem with the Dreamers, he had only to call on Congress to pass the DREAM Act and promise to sign it, Khanna said.

“The challenge is that the Dreamers are kids who grew up here, went to school here, rooted for the Giants and the 49ers and now work here,” he added. “Except for an accident of birth, they’re no different from any other American.”

That doesn’t leave much room for Democrats to compromise on any bill trimming back the protections provided by DACA.

“This is an enormously sad day for America,” Eshoo added. “Now the Congress and the Republicans have to step up.”