Democrats ask Obama to pardon 'Dreamers,' but White House says only Congress can grant legal status

Three congressional Democrats sent President Obama a letter Thursday asking him to pardon ‘Dreamers,’ i.e. illegal immigrants who entered the country as children. The move is seen as a last ditch attempt to extend elements of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. From the Los Angeles Times:

Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Obama on Thursday asking him to use his pardon authority to forgive the past and future civil immigration offenses of the nearly 750,000 people granted legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

That would keep those people from being deported, but would leave them in legal limbo without work permits or visas. However, without an immigration offense on their records, they could more easily apply for legal status.

“They wouldn’t have a piece of paper, they wouldn’t have work authorization, but they wouldn’t have to be living in fear every moment of their lives about deportation,” Lofgren said after a news conference about the letter.

Part of the concern of DACA advocates is that, in order to sign up for the program, illegal immigrants were coaxed into giving the government their addresses and fingerprints. Now the authors of the letter suggest that the Obama administration should prevent the incoming Trump administration from using this information to target so-called Dreamers for deportation. From ABC News:

All the information DACA recipients provided to receive deferred action is held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is under the DHS and processes immigration applications, green cards and naturalization.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is also under the DHS and is responsible for enforcing the country’s immigration laws. There are no laws or protections that would block USCIS from handing over all its information to ICE, which it could use to deport people.

“There is currently a memorandum that says that information will only be used in limited circumstances, such as going after criminals, and that memorandum could very well be revised by a new administration. So people are very insecure,” Toni Maschler, a D.C.-based immigration attorney, told ABC News.

By Thursday afternoon the White House had already pushed back on the suggestion of a blanket immigration pardon. From the Hill:

A White House official told The Hill in an email that a presidential pardon would not grant legal status to DACA recipients.

“We note that the clemency power could not give legal status to any undocumented individual.  As we have repeatedly said for years, only Congress can create legal status for undocumented individuals,” the official said.

DACA, which was rolled out by the Obama administration in 2014, extends a kind of mass prosecutorial discretion to immigrant children who arrived in America before the age of sixteen. It assures them they will not be deported and also grants them the right to work.

A court ruled the program was an overreach of executive power in 2015. Earlier this summer the 8-member Supreme Court announced they would be deadlocked 4 to 4 on the issue and let the lower court ruling blocking implementation of DACA stand.

President-elect Trump seems likely to end DACA once in office but would not be able to undo a presidential pardon if one were issued.

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