Hispanic Caucus chair: 'We intend to win' on DACA

Hispanic Caucus chair: 'We intend to win' on DACA
© Greg Nash

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) said Thursday her caucus is still building its strategy to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” but expressed optimism that a solution could be reached.

Lujan Grisham said the caucus is weighing what concessions — if any — Democrats would make to Republicans in exchange for passing a bill that would allow DACA recipients to remain in the country.

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Under DACA, nearly 800,000 immigrants brought into the country illegally as children received work permits and deferral from deportation for two-year periods.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFederal judge rules Trump defunding sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional on its face' FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock MORE on Tuesday announced the end of the Obama-era program, which Republicans have criticized as an example of executive overreach.

But the decision also opened the door to a new legislative battle over the program, with Democrats and some Republicans looking for ways to enshrine in law benefits awarded by DACA.

The chances of passing a proposal to protect DACA recipients have increased, but Democrats are wary of the potential for a deal that would include provisions they deem unacceptable.

"Republicans have already given us some of their cards, they want some sort of border security. Democrats are clear: Cannot be wall, cannot be interior [enforcement], cannot be detentions," Lujan Grisham said.

Absent funding for President Trump's proposed border wall or increased interior enforcement, Lujan Grisham said other measures to prop up border security could be palatable to Democrats and yield better national security results.

The congresswoman suggested that increased funding for the Coast Guard, a federal agency responsible for a large volume of drug interdictions, could be an option.

However, she emphasized the need to distinguish national security and immigration as separate issues.

"We frankly don't appreciate that any Republican in Congress or any other group tries to associate any immigration, particularly Dreamers, with national security and border issues. It's outrageous,” Lujan Grisham said.

"Dreamers are not a security risk by the very nature of how [they applied to DACA]," she added.

"We're going to fight that, but we're also watching all these moving pieces so that we have a responsive strategy that's productive," she said. "We intend to win this.”

Still, with a deadline to end DACA — barring legislative action, the first recipients could lose their protections in March — there's palpable tension among caucus members.

"We still don't have comprehensive immigration reform, people are nervous," Lujan Grisham said. 

"Right now we're not thinking of horse-trading these people's futures for a wall or anything else," said a member of the caucus on background. "We'll continue to strategize on DACA. Of course everybody's very anxious about what's going to happen. But we'll continue to push forward and make sure that we press for the Dream Act and also that we hold our own leadership accountable to make sure that Democrats get it done."