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Democrats Urge President Obama to Protect DACA Recipients

  • Aline Barros

FILE - Community activists rally during an event on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, DAPA, in Los Angeles, Feb. 17, 2015.

Giovanni Guerrero was 7 years old when he arrived in the U.S.

Since then, though, his family has overstayed a visa, meaning Guerrero and his siblings are undocumented.

"I'm a proud Mexican-American, but I've been here since the first grade and being raised here, you get adapted," Guerrero said.

The 20-year-old is also a DACA recipient — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that could end if President-elect Donald Trump fulfills his promise to cancel all executive actions, memoranda and orders issued by President Barack Obama affecting the protection of immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Trump has labeled them "unconstitutional."

Guerrero is now a third-year aerospace engineering student concentrating in astronautics at California Poly San Luis Obispo.

"[I] know that all my efforts and dreams will be destroyed by not being allowed to enter [this] industry, especially if I am deported," Guerrero said. "Once you're deported, it's kind of over for you."

FILE - Eddie Alberto, center, waits in line for assistance with paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, Aug. 15, 2012.
FILE - Eddie Alberto, center, waits in line for assistance with paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, Aug. 15, 2012.

Stories like Guerrero's prompted a group of 60 Democratic House members to write a letter, urging Obama to pardon DACA recipients who are in the U.S. illegally — the idea being to shield them from prosecution. More than 740,000 people have been approved for deportation relief under the program.

"After decades in this country, young people were educated in our schools, children who have grown up with our children, who know no other country, who have pledged allegiance to our flag. And now we know there are Republicans who want them deported, and their skills and talents taken to some other country," Illinois Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez said Wednesday at a news conference.

‘American dream’

In the letter, the legislators said that DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, had trusted the government to protect them. But many Dreamers now fear that addresses and other identifying information they provided to register for DACA can be used by the new administration to target them for deportation.

Democratic members said they know the president's "clemency power" would not give legal status to any undocumented individual, as only Congress can create legal status.

"Never before has an incoming president threatened such a large segment of our population with deportation, but you [President Obama] have the ability to act legally and irreversibly in their defense," said Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California.

FILE - Undocumented people wait to fill out application forms for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Chicago, Illinois, Aug. 15, 2012.
FILE - Undocumented people wait to fill out application forms for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Chicago, Illinois, Aug. 15, 2012.

Chu was referring to Trump's promises to reverse current administration immigration executive orders signed in 2012.

It would be one of the easiest promises for Trump to fulfill, as he can undo all executive orders signed by the previous president.

But Trump indicated he was “going to work something out” for undocumented youth like Guerrero.

In a Time Magazine “Person of the Year” interview, he promised to do something to make “people happy and proud” but did not dismiss the idea of getting rid of DACA.

“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,” Trump said.

A DACA recipient living in California, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Trump's comments show that he does not understand the immigrant community.

“I feel like for him to cancel DACA but to bring a different sort of relief is almost--to please everyone-- I feel like it's almost impossible,” the social worker student said.

“I don't believe he will reach something that will help everybody. I just don't think that's going to happen,” she added.

Meanwhile, the president-elect's transition team has not disclosed how or if he will implement his immigration promises.

"The president-elect is very focused on naming his cabinet, building out his administration and preparing to hit the ground running on Inauguration Day. … There will be plenty of time to discuss detailed policy specifics after the swearing-in," Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Trump transition team, told Reuters.

Also Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke to reporters after meeting with Trump in New York.

The mayor, who was former White House chief of staff to Obama, said they discussed a variety of topics, among them DACA students.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with reporters after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Dec. 7, 2016.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with reporters after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Dec. 7, 2016.

"I delivered to the president-elect, his senior adviser and his chief-of-staff a letter signed by 14 mayors put together from across the country about DACA students — that they were working hard toward the American dream," Emanuel said.

"All of us fundamentally believe that these are students, these are also people who want to join the armed forces,” he added. “They gave their name, their address, their phone number, where they are. They're trying to achieve the American Dream, it's no fault of their own their parents came here. They are something we should hold up and embrace."

But embracing Dreamers may not include pardoning them.

Power of pardon

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, said she knows people are hoping that a pardon authority is a way to protect people, but "it is not an answer here."

"Pardon authority is generally designed for criminal violations, not civil. … Ultimately, it wouldn't protect a single soul from deportation. It is not an answer here for this population. I know people are hoping for an answer," Munoz said during a podcast interview released by the Center for Migration Studies.

That is why, she added, Obama prefers legislation.

Guerrero still holds on to hope. He believes that receiving a pardon could allow him to stay in the U.S., where he plans to work on rocket and satellite technology.

"I definitely have lots to offer to the U.S., and it's sad and humanly degrading to have education you can't directly apply to the nation you've called home since first grade," Guerrero said.

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