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Future of DACA and DREAMers Shaping Up as First Major Test for Trump Administration

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One of the first tests of Donald Trump’s presidency will be over the futures and livelihoods of the 750,000 DREAMers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While Trump has pledged to end DACA on day one of his presidency, a range of voices are pointing out that this would be a colossal mistake. These are but the first stirrings of what is likely to be a pitched battle with Trump over the future of DREAMers in the country they call home.

The Washington Post recently editorialized that taking away DREAMers’ protections from deportation and work permits would serve no purpose other than to restrict the livelihoods, futures and contributions of young people who are “as culturally American as their U.S.-born neighbors.”

Longtime DREAM Act and immigrant champion Senator Dick Durbin, who delivered a Senate speech last night on the importance of DACA, highlighted a recent letter he received from Oscar Cornejo, Jr., a DACA recipient to whom Dartmouth College recently awarded its William S. Churchill prize for outstanding academic achievement and contributions to the college in the areas of ‘‘fairness, respect for duty, and citizenship.’’ Oscar’s letter noted, “When I received my DACA, the threat of deportation had been lifted and I felt I could actually achieve my dreams. DACA has allowed me to work for the first time and the money I earn goes to support my education and my family.” As Senator Durbin reflected:

“Oscar and so many other DREAMers have so much to give to America. If we eliminate DACA, Oscar will lose his legal status. He will be subject to deportation at any moment, and he could be deported back to Mexico, a country where he hasn’t lived for 15 years. Will America be a stronger country if we lose Oscar Cornejo or if he stays here and becomes a teacher? I think the answer is very clear … He has gone to college without any Federal assistance whatsoever. He doesn’t qualify for a penny, yet he has excelled and still, despite all these struggles, wants to give back to this Nation … Losing him would be a loss to America.

I appeal to the President-elect: Think long and hard about the future of this country. Realize that he and I—the President-elect and myself—as first generation Americans, have to understand that it is immigration that has brought so much by way of diversity and talent to the great United States. We can’t shut down DACA. That would be horrible. It would mean that 744,000 young people such as Oscar, protected from deportation, would wake up the next morning wondering if that knock on the door was the last they would hear as a resident of America. I am going to fight for Oscar and for the 744,000 who qualify for DACA and for the DREAMers like them who came here as children and simply asked for a chance.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was asked yesterday about Trump’s promise to revoke DACA on Day One of his presidency. In response, Graham said:

“I think that is in an issue he needs to think long and hard about … Here is a problem that we have: You’ve got about a million DREAM Act kids who came here as small children, lived here all their lives. Now they have legal status by executive order.” Graham also stated more broadly about the Trump immigration agenda, “I will not vote for a bill that doesn’t, that quite frankly, treats a grandmother and drug dealer the same.”

President Obama weighed in on Monday, saying that he “will urge the president-elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of what for all practical purposes are American kids.”

The Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson noted:

“One area where the agenda is unifying and well-developed concerns the reversal of Obama-era executive orders. Republican lawyers have spent the past year and a half working in study groups on reversal language in order to be ready on the first day of a GOP presidency. The action most likely to cause controversy would overturn President Obama’s limited amnesty for students brought illegally to the United States as children. Most Republicans think that executive order was illegal; but most Americans will probably find the victims of reversing the order to be sympathetic. This hints at the long-term political crisis faced by the triumphant GOP. Trump won the presidency in a manner that undermines the GOP’s electoral future … Trump’s white-turnout strategy is not the wave of the future; it is the last gasp of an old and disturbing electoral approach.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote in a recent story titled, “The first big political war of Trump’s presidency will be explosive”:

“If their work permits are revoked, you can expect sympathetic national media profiles of the victims, which will feature them declaring that their only desire is to work hard and remain productive, contributing members of American society.  This would be one of the first big stories of the Trump presidency. The question is whether other Republicans will want this story to unfold. Congressional Republicans have voted to defund DACA in the past. But they did so secure in the knowledge that they could rail angrily at Obama’s lawless amnesty without facing the political consequences of actually ending it, because they knew Obama would never allow that to happen. But now President Trump can end DACA himself with the stroke of a pen, and produce all of those consequences right away.”

And political journalist Fernando Espuelas writes in a column for The Hill titled, “Free advice for Trump: Don’t touch the Dreamers,”:

“As both Democrats and Republicans learned over the last few years, Dreamers are fierce. They embody the best of American political activism: smart strategies tied to effective tactics. The Dream Act, killed by Republicans in 2010, only came up for a vote in the first place because of a sustained, successful campaign by Dreamers and their allies.

And even Obama was successfully persuaded not to accept the Republican-led House obliteration of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill as the end of the road. DACA was the result of mounting, intense pressure on the Obama administration to find a solution and do the right thing — to not just speak about American values, but act on them.

…The Dreamers occupy a special place among American Latinos. They’ve become Latino icons: A vast group of smart, prepared and determined advocates with steely determination and a righteous cause. Even Latinos who have no personal or familial connection to undocumented immigrants admire their work and applaud their success in achieving DACA.”