- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2016

House Democrats renewed their call for President Obama to issue a “full, categorical pardon” for illegal immigrants, saying Wednesday that he is misunderstanding the extent of his powers and he can, in fact, help out hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant Dreamers.

Young adults who came to the U.S. as children, the more than 740,000 Dreamers who gained tentative legal status under Mr. Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty, are the most sympathetic figures in the debate.

Democrats said they trusted Mr. Obama’s promises and came forward, announcing themselves as illegal immigrants, and now a Trump administration would have a road map for how to deport them, unless the president finds a way to shield them.

“You’re the president of the United States, you asked them to join this program, you use the power of your pardon,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who led a letter signed by more than 60 House Democrats in asking for the relief.

The White House’s top domestic policy adviser shot down the idea of a pardon, saying that they had concluded that the president’s powers apply to criminal offenses, while immigration status is a civil offense. Cecilia Munoz, the adviser, also said a pardon couldn’t grant legal status, so the Dreamers would still not be on firm footing even if they could be pardoned for their immigration offenses.

“It’s not an answer here,” she said in a podcast interview with the Center for Migration Studies.

The Democrats who rallied Wednesday countered that the president’s pardon power under the Constitution extends to all offenses, not just criminal violations.

They demanded the president show “courage” in his final days in office, saying they can’t count on President-elect Donald Trump, so they need Mr. Obama to step up.

Mr. Trump has said he would cancel Mr. Obama’s amnesty, but in an interview with Time magazine, published Wednesday, he said he’s still searching for a solution for the Dreamers.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Obama has had a tenuous working relationship with immigrant-rights advocates during his tenure. They battered him during his first term into announcing the initial 2012 amnesty — something he repeatedly said he didn’t have the power to do, before reversing himself during his re-election campaign.

He then insisted he’d gone as far as he could, but the advocates refused to accept that, demanding he expand his amnesty to include four million more illegal immigrants. After repeatedly saying he didn’t have the power, he relented in 2014 and did expand the amnesty.

Federal courts, though, ruled the expansion broke federal laws and put it on hold.

The 2012 amnesty has remained in effect, though, and as of June 30, some 741,546 illegal immigrants had been approved. New numbers are due to be released any day.

To qualify, the illegal immigrants had to provide their identities and addresses to the government — creating a list that advocates fear could be used to target them for deportation under Mr. Trump.

Democrats said at the very least Mr. Obama should issue an executive order to shield the information so immigration agents can’t use it for deportation lists.

Mr. Gutierrez said Dreamers were just the most pressing cases, but he said he and his colleagues want to see most illegal immigrants protected.

“This is only the beginning. So for those who think this is too many, we’re here to protect millions and millions and millions more. This is the beginning,” he said.

Democrats urged states and municipalities to do what they could to shield illegal immigrants. A number of localities have said they’ll stiffen their status as sanctuaries that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities, while California is pondering using taxpayer money to fund lawyers to defend illegal immigrants in deportation cases.

In the Senate, meanwhile, lawmakers are working on legislation that would grant a temporary reprieve to the Dreamers as a stopgap, saying it would give Congress a chance to work on a broader immigration bill.

The two leaders of that effort — Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat — said they were “encouraged” by Mr. Trump’s seeming softening of stance in the Time Magazine interview.

Immigrant-rights groups, though, said they’re worried Mr. Trump will use Dreamers as a bargaining chip.

“We will fight to defend DACA fearlessly to ensure that nearly 800,000 young people continue to be protected from deportation and retain the ability to work. But we will never allow ‘working something out’ for young people with DACA to serve as a cover for mass deportation and the Muslim registry,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at United We Dream.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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