California’s attorney general Monday rebutted President Donald Trump’s claim that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the federal program that allows temporary residency to some people brought to the United States illegally as children, was “probably dead,” and urged fellow Democrats not to compromise on other immigration issues to win a quick legislative fix for so-called “Dreamers.”
“Not only is DACA not dead the way the president said, they are taking renewal applications,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “I would hope that those supporters of ‘Dreamers’ are able to go in and fight fiercely for a good deal without making bad compromises.”
DACA has been the subject of intense negotiations on Capitol Hill in recent weeks as Democrats and Republicans try to craft an agreement that would give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. The question of Dreamers has been tied to the budget bill, which must be passed by Friday to avert a government shutdown.
But those negotiations seemed to implode last week when Trump rejected a proposed bipartisan plan and allegedly questioned why the United States should continue to accept immigrants from “shithole countries” in places like Africa and Haiti.
Trump on Twitter has disputed he used the vulgar term and said the senator who first went public with the accusation, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., “totally misrepresented what was said” and “blew” a deal on DACA.
Sunday, Durbin told media in Chicago he stuck by his initial account of the president’s words.
Becerra, a strong supporter of DACA and the son of immigrant parents, said his win last week of a nationwide injunction forcing the federal government to continue processing renewals for DACA means that the program must remain largely intact for now, whether or not Congress reaches a deal.
The legal stay, he said, allows many of those who have recently fallen out of residency status or who may soon do so to submit and receive new two-year extensions – and brings what he believes is some breathing room for congressional Democrats trying to craft a deal.
Prior to the injunction, the DACA program was scheduled to end in March, when nearly 1,000 Dreamers a day could face deportation, putting pressure on Democratic lawmakers to protect them. The injunction, said Becerra, lessened the need to tie legislation to the budget bill.
“Now all the sudden those who were being pushed into a corner … with people saying, ‘Take this or DACA dies’ ... we don’t need to swallow bitter elements on immigration,” Becerra said.
Trump and other Republicans have said that any deal on Dreamers has to include other aspects of immigration reform – many of which are unpopular with Democrats. That list includes funding for border security, which could include money for a wall, the end of so-called “chain migration” that allows immigrants to help family members come to the U.S. and a change to “merit based” immigration instead of a lottery process.
“There is no reason why including DACA in the budget, those on the Democratic side should have to give away fatal elements, poison pills, in order to get both the budget and DACA done. DACA should be able to stand on its own and be fixed,” Becerra said.
Becerra’s comments echo concerns of other Democrats, including California Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both of whom have suggested focusing on “clean” DACA legislation that leaves other immigration issues for later talks.
Becerra also weighed in on a controversy over Trump’s alleged vulgar language.
“Personally from my vantage point, Donald Trump has shown over the years he is racist,” said Becerra. “He is a bigot. It’s strong language, but how can you dance around this when Donald Trump doesn’t dance around this? I am using his own actions and words to indict him for being a racist.”
Becerra also challenged the courage of other Republicans in the room with Trump and Durbin for not confirming or denying the comments. A handful of those present at the meeting have publicly said they don’t recall Trump using profanity.
“To me, it says that there is an absence of the profiles in courage that we need, of the people who are putting their party above their country,” he said. “How could you not hear what the president says? …To me it’s phony.”
The injunction that reinstated DACA was issued by a federal judge in a series of lawsuits being led by Becerra on behalf of the state of California and others against the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security charging that that agency didn’t have the authority to end the immigration program, which was started by President Barack Obama, and that the federal government violated due process by granting legal status to Dreamers and then summarily canceling it.
While the federal government may appeal the order to a higher court, it had not done so as of Friday.
Nationwide, some 132,000 Dreamers had reapplied for their two-year legal work permits before last year’s DACA renewal deadline, but about 32,000 others missed the deadline, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services reported.
A Justice Department spokesman said immediately after the injunction was announced that it would “continue to vigorously defend this position and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”
Bee reporter Stephen Magagnini contributed to this report.