WASHINGTON— Barack Obama is under pressure during his final weeks as president to do something — anything — to secure the future of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who could face deportation under the Trump administration. His options appear few.
At least 50 congressional Democrats are pushing Obama to take the rare if not unprecedented step of granting pardons to the young immigrants who have stepped forward to identify themselves in exchange for a promise that they’d be safe from deportation. The White House, though, has repeatedly ruled that out.
Several Republican lawmakers are crafting legislative proposals to solidify the place of these immigrants, sometimes called Dreamers, before Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20. Similar efforts have repeatedly failed, even with Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, so the likelihood of a legislative Hail Mary isn’t great.
That leaves more than 741,000 immigrants wondering what’s next.
Trump’s plans for Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are unclear. As a candidate, he pledged an immediate end to what he called an “illegal executive amnesty.” But as the president-elect, he has softened that stance.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump told Time magazine last month. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Obama’s program allowed young immigrants who came to the United States as children to come forward and go through background checks in exchange for a promise they would be safe from deportation and allowed to apply for work permits. They must reapply for the program and work permits every two years.
While the government promised approved immigrants that they wouldn’t face deportation, the program does not provide a legal immigration status. Under Trump, their personal information, and that of some relatives, could soon be readily accessible to immigration enforcement officials.
When Obama announced the plan in 2012, he said he was taking executive action because Congress hadn’t acted.
“This is not amnesty, this is not immunity,” Obama said at the time. He called the program a “stopgap measure” that would protect young immigrants from deportation while his immigration agencies focused enforcement efforts on criminal immigrants and those who pose a threat to public safety.
The Homeland Security Department made clear then that a future administration could do away with the program.
The pardons being pushed by Democratic lawmakers are seen as a non-starter.
“Ultimately, it wouldn’t protect a single soul from deportation, so it’s not an answer here,” Cecilia Munoz, Obama’s top immigration adviser, told the Center for Migration Studies. “I know people are hoping for an answer, but by its very nature, the use of executive authority in this way is subject to the will of the executive” — soon to be Trump.
Even if Obama was inclined to offer pardons for immigration violations, that alone wouldn’t change the predicament these young immigrants are in because the president doesn’t have the power to grant someone legal immigration status on his own.
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