Illegal immigrants are preparing to ask President Obama to pardon some 750,000 Dreamers, saying such a move is their last, best hope to stave off what they fear will be a wave of deportations once Donald Trump takes the Oval Office.
Community leaders have planned a rally in New York on Wednesday to make the request.
“Millions of law abiding undocumented immigrants are fearful of what will happen when the new Administration takes control in January,” the group of New York state lawmakers and immigration advocates said in a statement announcing the rally. “However, President Obama has the power of pardons that he can use to protect all DACA enrollees.”
As of September, more than 740,000 illegal immigrants had been approved for Mr. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a minor amnesty that grants young adult illegal immigrants a two-year stay of deportation and issues them work permits, entitling them to driver’s licenses and some taxpayer benefits.
Mr. Trump has signaled that he would cancel that order, leaving Dreamers out of status when their work permits expire. That puts Mr. Obama in a bind because he has expressed an interest in helping illegal immigrants but also has acknowledged limits on power.
Mr. Obama ducked a question this week about what steps he might take and instead urged Mr. Trump to “think long and hard” before canceling the DACA program.
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“I mean, these are kids who were brought here by their parents. They did nothing wrong. They have gone to school. They have pledged allegiance to the flag. Some of them joined the military. They’ve enrolled in school. By definition, if they are part of this program, they are solid, wonderful young people of good character,” he said.
But advocates want assurance from Mr. Obama in the form of a pardon.
As precedent for mass pardons for those who have never been convicted, they point to Confederate soldiers in the Civil War and draft evaders during the Vietnam War.
Rosemary Jenks, a government relations manager at NumbersUSA, which lobbies for stricter immigration enforcement, said an Obama pardon could erase from the Dreamers’ records the illegal ways they entered the country. But the president couldn’t put illegal immigrants on a pathway to citizenship through a pardon.
“He can’t grant them legal status,” she said.
The advocates said their goal is to stop deportations at least to give Congress and Mr. Trump the chance to tackle a broader immigration bill that could include legal status.
Mr. Trump, though, has suggested a different direction. In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS this weekend, he said he would put his emphasis on border security and on deporting up to 3 million illegal immigrants with criminal records.
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Once the border is secured and the criminals are deported or incarcerated, he said, he will turn his attention to the rest of the illegal immigrant population, whom he called “terrific people.”
Advocates said they don’t believe Mr. Trump. They say far fewer than 3 million illegal immigrants have criminal records and that to deport that many would dip into rank-and-file illegal immigrants whose only lawbreaking is in relation to their unauthorized status.
“We know Trump is lying about immigrants because his lips are moving,” Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, wrote in a commentary.
The Migration Policy Institute also said the 3 million number is inflated. Its own calculations put the number of illegal immigrants with criminal convictions at fewer than 1 million.