Enraged Dems vow to protect ‘Dreamers’ program

Enraged Dems vow to protect ‘Dreamers’ program
© Getty

Democrats and pro-immigrant activists are on the warpath after President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio and reports surfaced that he could end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

With Hispanic Heritage Month coming up in September, Latino leaders are busy organizing voter registration drives, legal defense strategies and street demonstrations in lieu of black tie parties.

"We're not in a mood to celebrate. Instead, this will be a month of action," said Héctor Sánchez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

ADVERTISEMENT
At the top of the agenda is the drive to defend DACA, the Obama-era program that gave work permits and deferral from deportation to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, popularly known as Dreamers.

Ten states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), have threatened to challenge the legality of DACA in court unless Trump rescinds it by Sept. 5. 

The Justice Department has declined to say whether it will defend the program, and several reports indicate the White House is leaning toward canceling it.

Activists view the Trump policies as a direct attack against Hispanic communities.

"There is a common thread that runs through Arpaio's pardon, the threat against DACA, the Texas racial profiling law and ambivalent statements about white supremacists," said Clarissa Martínez de Castro, deputy vice president of research at UnidosUS.

"Those who do not actively denounce these actions can no longer hide behind arguments about law and order," she added.

Arpaio's pardon, announced by Trump late Friday night as much of the country was focused on Hurricane Harvey's landfall in Texas, was read by activists as a presidential endorsement of the policies that ultimately got the ex-lawman convicted. During a press conference at the White House on Monday, Trump defended the decision, calling Arpaio a “patriot” who had been treated unfairly.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt after refusing to heed a court order requiring him to stop racially profiling suspected undocumented immigrants for arrest.

He was due for sentencing Oct. 5 before Trump's pardon.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and legal counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said his group would pursue any group that followed Arpaio's example.

"We are concerned that others will interpret this as an invitation of their own to engage in similar activity," said Saenz.

"We are prepared to challenge legally and politically any agency that would engage in similar conduct," he added.

Still, Democrats' options are limited as Trump follows through on his immigration-related campaign promises.

But the reports that he's considering ending DACA, rather than leaving the case up to the courts, suggest his advisers believe the program could withstand a legal challenge.

While the Justice Department could refuse to defend DACA, Democratic state attorneys general are prepared to stand up for the program.

"We believe that we're on strong footing when it comes to the legality of the DACA program," said California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCalifornia attorney general on secession: State is 'economic engine' of US Sunday shows preview: GOP moves toward tax reform The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE.

"We're exploring every option and we'll use every tool that we have at our disposal," he added.

And Democrats are counting on public support for the Dreamers as they build up political ammunition for the 2018 midterms, targeting Republican voters who may not find Trump's bombastic style palatable.

"To repeal the DACA program would be a morally repugnant betrayal of everything that Ronald Reagan's shining city stands for," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

"This isn't only about politics, this is about right and wrong," he added. "If Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE wants to govern for everyone, we can get something done. If he wants to continue to divide the nation, it will be harder to get anything done."