Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., the first members of Congress who came to America as undocumented immigrants, joined the chorus of Democrats calling for the extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, with a letter telling President Donald Trump to consider their life stories before making a decision.
"We both remember arriving in the United States, speaking limited English, and being fearful of deportation," Kihuen and Espaillat wrote. "Our backgrounds and the trajectory of our careers have been humbling, and show how, with the right opportunities, anyone can achieve the American Dream. Hearing about the looming threat to other young men and women who may be deprived of that American Dream is extremely concerning, and is causing fear in communities throughout the country."
All day Thursday, congressional Democrats and activist groups escalated their defenses of DACA, the five-year-old program that allows children brought to the United States illegally to live and work with government licenses. Immigration hard-liners have successfully used the threat of a lawsuit by 10 Republican attorneys general, which has no real authority to end the program, to urge the end of DACA by Sept. 5. All week, immigrant groups and liberal and business allies have organized rallies and quiet, behind-the-scenes pressure to hold the president off.
Their tone grew more combative on Thursday after Fox News, Reuters and McClatchy, citing White House sources, suggested that the president had decided to halt DACA - an occasional campaign promise he abandoned this year. The Women's March, which has continued to organize locally since its Jan. 21 event in Washington, said in a tweet that its supporters would make Trump's "life impossible."
United We Dream, the largest advocacy organization for childhood arrivals, has also prepared an action plan for the potential end of DACA. "Any Republicans or Democrats not on our side better believe we'll be at their offices, in their churches, and wherever they get their late-night drinks to make sure they know what's at stake and that we won't go away until the rights of immigrants are protected and safe," advocacy director Greisa Martinez Rosas told Vox's Jeff Stein this week.
The White House's political operation has frequently seen opportunity in protests; images of clashes between protesters and police have already appeared in 2017 political ads. Before leaving the White House, former Trump political strategist Stephen K. Bannon suggested to several reporters that protests of Confederate monuments would redound to Trump's benefit - "identity politics" gone amok.
DACA advocates, up to this week, have generally benefited from a different strategy. The president has said several times that DACA recipients, who must have clean criminal records to get legal status, are "good kids" - separating them from the "bad hombres" targeted in much of his immigration agenda. The letter from Kihuen and Espaillat fits into that theme, of encouraging the president to avoid a battle with people whose only brush with the law came when their parents brought them to America.
The text of the letter is below.
"As the two first formerly undocumented Members of Congress, we are writing to ask you not to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
We both remember arriving in the United States, speaking limited English, and being fearful of deportation. As young boys in a new country, we never could have imagined serving in the United States Congress. Our backgrounds and the trajectory of our careers have been humbling, and show how, with the right opportunities, anyone can achieve the American Dream. Hearing about the looming threat to other young men and women who may be deprived of that American Dream is extremely concerning, and is causing fear in communities throughout the country.
DACA has provided certainty to 800,000 young men and women who, like us, were brought to the United States through no fault of their own as children. DACA has allowed these young people to provide a positive economic impact to the United States, with a recent report finding that nearly 60 percent of young DACA recipients obtained new jobs, 49 percent opened their first bank account, 45 percent had increased job earnings and 33 percent obtained their first credit card. Ending DACA would also have disastrous impacts on our economy and would result in a loss of at least $460.3 billion to the United States' economy over the next ten years. Finally, ending DACA will do nothing to secure our borders or fix our tattered immigration system. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, and the need for the DACA program, is in fact a direct result of our broken immigration system.
DACA beneficiaries are young people who love this country and want nothing more than the ability to give back. Just months ago, you stated that DREAMERS could "rest easy" and that they would not be targets for deportation. We urge you not to go back on your promise."