House Democrats have come up with a way to keep President-elect Donald Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program: They want President Barack Obama to pardon undocumented immigrants who were brought as children to the United States by their parents, the so-called DREAMers.
"We want the immigrant community to know that we are not giving up, we are going to fight for them, we are going to stand by them, we are on their side," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said at the press conference. She was joined by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.
“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 another country,” Roybal-Allard said
There are an estimated 750,000 DREAMers. DACA also applies to 3.6 million parents of children born in the United States. Obama established the program through executive order after Republicans killed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which established a multiphase process for undocumented immigrants to gain conditional residency and then permanent residency.
The White House, however, told the Hill in an email granting clemency to DREAMers would not give them legal status.
“Only Congress can create legal status for undocumented individuals,” the White House said.
Trump pledged during the campaign to rid the country of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, but during the weekend rolled back the idea in a “60 Minutes” interview, saying instead he would target 2 million to 3 million people who have been convicted of crimes or are gang members or drug dealers.
The congressmen sent a letter to Obama, urging him to “exercise your constitutional authority to provide pardons to DREAMers both retroactively and prospectively.”
DACA granted DREAMers two-year, renewable work permits, deferring deportation actions based solely on immigration law.
"Different lawyers have different opinions, we're asking the president to do it. If he's got a better idea, he can come back to us and tell us what that idea is," Lofgren said, admitting such action would leave DREAMers in legal limbo.
“But they wouldn’t have to be living in fear every moment of their lives about deportation,” she said.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, told Bloomberg the election has plunged some families into crisis.
“Many undocumented families are trying to figure out what to do. If their address is known by the government, should they move? Should they go back to their home country rather than try to weather four years of a Trump administration? Others are saying we should stand up and fight,” Sharry said.
In Chicago, public health officials reported a 200 percent increase in calls to suicide hotlines after the election.
As a result of DACA, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have the fingerprints, home addresses, personal biometric information and other information identifying the DREAMers, making them vulnerable if Trump rescinds Obama’s executive order establishing the program, which requires participants to pass a background check and pay a fee, be in school or have a high school degree or be honorably discharged from the military. It applies to people who were less than 16 when they arrived in the United States and were less than 31 on June 15, 2012.