Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said Wednesday that his agents are not actively trying to deport illegal immigrant Dreamers, but pleaded with Congress to pass a bill granting them a more permanent legal status, saying only lawmakers can solve the problem.
Mr. Kelly declined to take a position on whether the 2012 amnesty President Obama created for Dreamers is legal, but said the program, known in government circles as DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is still in effect.
He said “illegals” who have been properly approved for DACA will be safe from deportation, but said those who haven’t applied, and some who were approved despite having criminal records that should make them ineligible, will be deported.
One of those Dreamers, Jessica Colotl, will be in federal court Thursday asking a judge to reinstate her DACA status after it was revoked earlier this year.
Her case could determine whether DACA is a discretionary grant that can be revoked, as the Obama and Trump administrations have argued, or whether it’s a right enforceable by the courts.
“When my DACA status was taken away from me, it basically took my life away,” Ms. Colotl said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “It was an arbitrary decision. I had been granted DACA before and nothing about my circumstances had changed.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said last month that Ms. Colotl had pleaded guilty to a felony — lying to a police officer — in Georgia, which disqualifies her from DACA. ICE began to reconsider her case last year, under Mr. Obama, but made the revocation this year under Mr. Trump.
Ms. Colotl and her lawyers said she doesn’t have a felony guilty plea on her record, and said the government even admitted in court documents last month that the Georgia case against her does not rise to the level of a felony for immigration purposes.
“That charge is completely bogus,” said Michael Tan, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who is handling the immigration case.
ICE would not comment to The Washington Times, citing the ongoing legal battle.
Immigration activists are closely watching the case, saying it’s one of a handful of high-profile instances that suggest Mr. Trump is deporting Dreamers, despite signals during the campaign and the presidential transition that he would not do so.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, accused Mr. Kelly of having “lied” to Hispanic members of Congress about DACA enforcement.
Some 780,000 people have been approved for DACA. To qualify, illegal immigrants must have come to the U.S. as children, been in the country by 2007, been 30 or younger as of 2012 and have pursued their high school diploma. DACA recipients are granted work permits entitling them to Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and other taxpayer benefits.
Despite not taking a stand on the legality, Mr. Kelly’s department is still processing cases. And he insisted he’s not trying to deport them.
“We are not, not, not targeting DACA registrants right now,” Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee.
He went on to say he gets “beat up a lot” by both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who say he should leave Dreamers alone. He said it’s up to them to pass a more permanent solution.
“I am hoping frankly because there is bipartisan support … for doing something about DACA legally, legislatively,” Mr. Kelly said.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed support for a more permanent legal status for Dreamers — though the last time Congress tried to act, in 2010, the GOP filibustered a bill in the Senate.
Many Republicans have argued Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty is an illegal use of executive power.
Mr. Obama himself repeatedly said he didn’t have this kind of authority — until he made an election-year reversal in June 2012, suddenly deciding he did in fact have powers to grant a get-out-of-jail-free card to an entire category of illegal immigrants.