As President-elect Donald Trump prepared to take control of the White House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists were hurrying to create legislation to curb his promised efforts to strip immigrants of rights afforded to them by several of President Barack Obama's executive orders.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was spearheading a bill this week that would defend the rights and benefits undocumented youth receive under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Graham, who refused to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election after losing to him in the Republican primaries, told Politico preserving the status quo for those immigrants would prevent Obama’s temporary executive orders from eventually expiring — which would give Trump the power he’d need to easily remove their access to resources like higher education, driver licenses, social security, health care and the ability to pass background checks.
"I'm going to introduce legislation with my Democratic colleagues and my Republican colleagues that would continue the legal status of the DACA kids," Graham said Wednesday. “It's going to be basically if you have legal status today, you'll continue to have legal status."
The news was met with a wave strong defense for undocumented youth from politicians across party lines:
Graham’s bill, which he said will be put up for a vote under the next Congress, was just the latest in a series of reforms aimed at protecting the nation’s immigrants under the next administration.
The news arrived just after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced relaxed restrictions on H-1B visas, providing a 60-day grace period for immigrants after being terminated or ending a job as they look for new work or prepare to leave the country. Under previous guidelines, H-1B visa holders were required to leave immediately after their job listed in application paperwork had ended.
Trump has stated the H1-B visa and others like it are unfair for American workers, calling for an amendment to be made to all visas that would require companies to hire U.S. citizens first. “Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement,” he said on his since-revised campaign website this fall. “We need companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed.”
He's also critiqued the current administration's efforts to aid undocumented youth — often nicknamed DREAMers, after the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — rather than providing those resources to American citizens along the campaign trail.
"I want dreamers to come from the United States. I want the people in the United States that have children, I want them to have dreams, also," Trump said in February. "We’re always talking about dreamers for other people. I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be dreamers, also. They’re not dreaming right now."
It remains unclear just how tough Trump’s administration is going to be on Obama’s immigration reform and whether the president-elect will follow through on his vows to deport millions of undocumented immigrants immediately after taking office. Trump said he’d review Obama’s policies regarding undocumented youth who have come out of the shadows in an interview with “60 Minutes,” though he didn’t specify whether he’d fight to repeal the Deferred Action program entirely.
Graham and other lawmakers weren't taking the risk.
“If [Trump] repeals it then we ought to immediately pass legislation to extend their legal status,” he continued. “I'm willing to do that. I'm going to support legislation that will continue legal status for these kids until we can find a fix to the overall program.”