Washington Watch

Posted on: June 28th, 2017
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Trump Permits ‘Dreamers’ to Stay in U.S., Reversing Campaign Promise

While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump made a promise to remove all recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who came to the United States as young children, a promise which he recently broke. On the evening of June 15, the Department of Homeland Security announced the continuance of the program implemented by former President Barack Obama which aimed to protect these immigrants from removal from the country and provide them work permits to help them find legal employment. Information on the department’s website details that immigrants who enrolled in the 2012 program “will continue to be eligible” for renewal every two years and that “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates.”

The decision was lauded by immigration rights activists, who have been voracious in their battle against Trump’s travel ban and increased immigration law enforcement. David Leopold, an immigration lawyer, praised the decision, “The preservation of DACA is a tribute to the strength of the Dreamer movement and an acknowledgment — at least in part — by the Department of Homeland Security that it should not be targeting undocumented immigrants who have strong ties to their communities and have abided by the law.”

The decision is in stark contrast to the anti-immigration stance Trump took during his campaign, and it is very likely to upset some of the presidents most staunch supporters. At one rally during his campaign, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the DACA program, which he said Obama had “defied federal law and the Constitution” when he implemented it.

Though Trump did not eliminate the DACA program, he did formally end Obama’s plan to expand the program to cover parents of “dreamers”, a common moniker for DACA recipients. The program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, would have aided as many as five million individuals from removal and provided them with work permits. The program never came into effect due to a Texas court blocking it at the request of a coalition of 26 state attorneys general. Although the Supreme Court was deadlocked in ruling on a challenge to that decision, the Trump administration’s decision officially ended that litigation.

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Republicans look to fulfill Trump’s vow on ‘Kate’s Law’

Attempting to fulfill one of President Trump’s most highly lauded promises, Republicans are pressing forward on “Katie’s Law”. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly spoke about the murder of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who was shot by a Mexican immigrant who unlawfully re-entered the country after a conviction for a separate crime and subsequent deportation. This case was presented by Trump as rationale for a stricter stance on immigration, and now Republicans are drafting legislation to impose mandatory five-year minimum prison sentence for immigrants who have been charged twice with illegal re-entry into the United States or have prior aggravated felony convictions. Katie’s Law is included in a border security bill that Senator John Cornyn and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul are developing. Though the bill was successfully blocked by Senate Democrats in 2015 and again in 2016, it is a priority for Trump whose campaign framework was headlined with a strong stance on illegal immigration. Additional changes made in the bill include provisions for the addition of 10,000 detention beds annually for the next four years, an increase in the number of border patrol agents 21,000 to 26,370, and a requirement for U.S. attorneys to prosecute individuals who are caught within 100 miles of crossing the southern border.

Many people, including Phillip Wolgin, managing director for the immigration policy team at the liberal Center for American Progress, believe that this harsh enforcement of illegal immigration is having a severely negative impact on the safety of immigrant communities. “With immigrants afraid of repercussions resulting from contacting authorities, fewer individuals in these communities will report violent offenses to police. It’s laughable you could claim this is about national security or community safety,” Wolgin stated. Not everyone is in favor of long mandatory sentencing and harsher immigration enforcement. A March McClatchy-Marist survey concluded that 80 percent of Americans prefer providing a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they meet a certain set of criteria. Furthermore, the poll found the opinion to be relatively bipartisan, with 69 percent of Republicans favoring such a course of action if undocumented immigrants learn English, pay fines, and have taxpaying employment.

According to Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, there has to be more of a deterrent for people who illegally re-enter the country. “if people understand [that] if they get caught they might go to prison, then they might not try to come back,” he stated. “We might not have as many people going to prison because the threat of getting caught is enough to stop them from coming in the first place.” Mehlman also noted that though the border wall that Trump promised has yet to be constructed, illegal border crossings are already down. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reported in February that unauthorized border crossings have declined 40 percent in the wake of Trump’s first month in office.

The deputy director of the liberal America’s Voice, Lynn Tramonte, questioned the motive of McCaul and Corwyn to push the bill forward, suggesting that they included Katie’s Law in their border bill to gain the support of groups who are in favor of reduced immigration. “The problem is, the more radical they make their bill, the less likely it is to pass,” Tramonte stated. “Our immigration laws are already harsh and extreme. They already bend toward deportation over family unification.” She questioned whether the tough stance on immigration is the most practical course of action, or if it would be more beneficial immigrational reform to offer paths to citizenship for those who want to be Americans.

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