Donald Trump’s apparent softening of his stance on illegal immigrant Dreamers produced wildly divergent reactions Wednesday, with some activists cheering a shift while others said they don’t believe the president-elect has changed one bit, and still intends to deport migrants as soon as he takes office.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Time magazine. “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.”
The president-elect indicated he still wants to cancel Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty, Time reported, but did not suggest deporting the hundreds of thousands who already gained tentative legal status under the Obama program.
In the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are trying to defend Dreamers said they were “encouraged” by Mr. Trump’s new tone.
But Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigrant rights advocacy, said he’s not buying a softening in Mr. Trump’s stance.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “Recall that Trump’s supposed ‘softening’ this summer was followed by his darkest and most nativist immigration speech in Phoenix.”
House Democrats said they’re not waiting around to see which version of Mr. Trump emerges next year. Instead they demanded President Obama intervene and issue a blanket pardon to more than 740,000 Dreamers — young-adult illegal immigrants who came forward under an amnesty Mr. Obama announced in 2012.
“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.
Mr. Trump has several options when he takes office next year: He could allow the 2012 program to remain in place; he could revoke it, but allow existing two-year permits to remain in effect until they expire, giving most Dreamers some breathing space; or he could revoke both the policy and all of the permits already issued, making all Dreamers immediately eligible for deportation.
Democrats are looking to Mr. Obama to constrain his successor as much as possible. Even if he doesn’t use his pardon, the House lawmakers urged him to issue an executive order to shield the identities of the Dreamers who came forward, 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.