Republicans are using the flood of migrant children across the U.S. border as a bludgeon in hopes of dismantling deportation protections for DREAMers – young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Immigration rights groups say they’re not having it.
Activists were protesting on the steps of the Capitol in Washington on Monday, accusing conservative lawmakers of using President Obama’s program allowing DREAMers temporary relief from deportation threats, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as a scapegoat for the issues driving the current surge of unaccompanied minors across the border.
While the Obama administration has made clear that the unaccompanied minors currently crossing into the country do not qualify for the order – they must have entered and lived in the country continuously before 2007 – officials are scrambling to dispel rumors that children would be offered permits once they enter the U.S. and be treated the same as DREAMers.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has made ending the DACA program a “top priority” and is pushing legislation to cut its funding. Another 33 Republicans pressed President Obama in a letter to roll back the executive order to “send a clear signal to all individuals that our immigration laws will be enforced.” Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is blaming the president’s executive actions for directly leading to the humanitarian crisis at the border.
“The GOP’s politicizing of Central American refugees to push its own agenda is shameful, and their attacks on DACA will not stand,” said Greisa Martinez, organizer for United We Dream.The argument folds into a familiar Republican rallying cry against the president, decrying his use of executive action as Congress drops the ball on comprehensive immigration reform.
But prominent voices —even from within the Republican Party — are warning that the attacks against the DREAMers could backfire on the GOP.
“They have squandered every opportunity thus far to engage the Latino community, help build a relationship with the Latino community and to gain and broaden the support of the Republican Party,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council at La Raza (NCLR).
DACA has offered relief for more than 600,000 kids, allowing them to apply for work permits and remain in the country without fear of being deported.
Obama enacted the policy during a crucial juncture in the 2012 elections when the Latino community had grown weary of the massive number of undocumented immigrants being deported by his administration.
Murgia and other leaders of NCLR, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group, sent a clear message when they dubbed President Obama as “deporter-in-chief.” Now, they’re ready to give him a second chance to fulfill the promises he has made on immigration reform.
“The jury is out and his second term is not over,” Murguía said. “President Obama has the opportunity to define his legacy.”
Murguía leveled the “deporter-in-chief” moniker earlier this year, just as the U.S. was approaching the 2 million milestone of deportations under Obama. Now, with hopes of immigration reform dead, and even in the face of the GOP attacks on the program for DREAMers, immigration advocates are now putting Democrats and the president on notice to remain accountable and extend the protections under DACA to entire families who are under fear of deportation.
“The problem is that on the Democratic side, abuse and neglect go hand and hand,” said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, a deputy vice president at NCLR. “Democrats could use a little bit of being afraid and not taking us for granted.”
After meeting with President Obama along with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus last week, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez said the Latino community should expect additional relief in the coming weeks and months.
“His response is that he will be generous and broad in the use of prosecutorial discretion to stop the deportation of our people each and every day in this nation,” Gutierrez said to a roaring crowd at the NCLR conference in Los Angeles this weekend.
“It would be a wonderful continuing payment for justice and fairness in our community,” he said.