The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fearing Trump, lawmakers try to help ‘dreamers’ stay in the United States

A group of immigrants, including attorney Cesar Vargas (R) and Teresa Galindo (L) gather in front of a Trump building in New York on Nov. 22, 2016, for a news conference about their trip to Washington to draw attention to immigration policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump. EPA/JUSTIN LANE
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A bipartisan group of senators is acting to try to keep undocumented young Americans from being deported in the event President-elect Donald Trump ends a program to let them stay in the United States to work or attend school.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) reintroduced a bill from last year to help anyone who meets the requirements for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program avoid deportation. President Obama created the “dreamers” program by executive order in 2012, but it is now in jeopardy as Trump approaches his inauguration, pledging to repeal many of Obama’s executive orders on his first day in office.

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Trump also ran much of his campaign promising to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and stating that the United States needs to be more stringent about whom it lets into the country. He has suggested, for instance, that Muslims should be temporarily banned from the United States until a better vetting system is in place.

The nativist rhetoric has worried senators that DACA will be among the first executive orders rescinded by Trump once he’s installed in the White House.

“It’s my firm belief most Americans want to fix a broken immigration system in a humane manner,” Graham said in a statement.

The South Carolina Republican — frequently a Trump antagonist — noted that while he believes the DACA order “was unconstitutional” and should eventually be repealed, “I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women — who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government — back into the darkness.”

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Undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children have emerged as a special category in an otherwise contentious debate over immigration, and both Democrats and Republicans have stepped forward to endorse proposals that would allow many of them to stay — particularly those attending school or contributing to the economy.

“We’ve witnessed them realize their full potential — by opening businesses, becoming doctors and teachers, and serving our country in uniform,” Durbin said in a statement. He called the bill “an opportunity for supporters and critics of DACA to come together and address a compelling humanitarian issue on a bipartisan basis.”

Graham, Durbin and other supporters of the measure believe they can easily get enough support for passage, if leaders are willing to put it on the floor.

They plan to campaign for that vote actively if Trump repeals Obama’s executive order.

Other supporters of the measure include Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Democrats Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.). Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) are introducing companion legislation in the House.