Hispanic caucus member challenges Kelly on ‘Dreamers’

Keren Carrion

A member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) challenged Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to back legislation to permanently legalize undocumented young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

In a meeting between Kelly and the CHC, Rep. Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.) pushed Kelly to show public support for bills like the Bridge Act, a bipartisan measure that would make permanent benefits awarded to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“I called him out and said, ‘Look, early on you said you were not going to take positions on bills, you were just going to stand back and enforce the rules and the law,’” said Barragán.

{mosads}Kelly last month joined Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in support of two immigration enforcement measures, Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, both of which passed the House.

In doing so, Barragán argues Kelly broke his own rule. 

“Since you’ve broken that rule and you’re now doing that, and you say you support DACA, I invite you to join us in a press conference to support the legislation on DACA,” Barragán said she told Kelly.

Kelly told members at the meeting that he supports the program, but stopped short of taking a position on the Bridge Act or any other specific legislation.

“He indicated that he is, again, supportive of DACA as he has said in the past. He repeated his position that Congress is the source of being a long term solution for DACA,” said David Lapan, Kelly’s spokesman, after the meeting.

Asked how Kelly had responded to Barragan’s proposal, Lapan said, “”the secretary didn’t have any particular comment on that.”

Kelly and the CHC have regular meetings to discuss specific immigration cases and immigration policy writ large.

On the policy end, Kelly told members Wednesday that DACA could end as soon as September, as it faces a court challenge presented against the program by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Kelly did not say whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions would present a defense against the legal challenge, and expressed pessimism for the program’s future.

“Not as a position, but from his point of view and attorneys that he’s spoken with both in the department and outside, most of them felt that DACA as it exists is not legally sustainable,” said Lapan.

CHC Chairwoman Michelle Luján Grisham pushed back against that idea, saying Kelly should back the program if he believes in it.

“We believe there is sufficient legal discretion in the current law to allow to continue to protect DACA and Dreamers, we believe that it would be much stronger if the department would say publicly and take a position, which is their job, if that’s what they’re saying to us,” said Lujan Grisham.

Sen. Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.) said the Trump administration could have blocked the court challenge.

“I don’t think if the President of the United States calls [Paxton] and says, ‘Listen, don’t insist on going to court,’ that there currently wouldn’t be the appropriate influence to permit the program to continue while maybe there’s a legislative solution.”

“There are some who think the administration urged the attorney general of Texas to go to court,” he added.

In April, Trump said Dreamers should “rest easy” and not fear deportation.

“If this administration wants to protect Dreamers, then let’s see them do that,” said Lujan Grisham. “They stood with Paul Ryan for Kate’s Law and sanctuary cities, we would like to see them stand with us for protecting Dreamers and move that needle.” 

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) said Kelly could tip the scales with Republicans in favor of permanent status for Dreamers.

“We know that if he supports this proposal, maybe Republicans will reach an agreement with Democrats and we can pass a law,” he said.

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) agreed that Kelly holds considerable sway in the Republican conference.

“General Kelly is greatly admired by everybody here,” said Díaz-Balart.

Díaz-Balart said a bill like the Bridge Act should be the first step in fixing a broken immigration system.

“I think there is very strong support in Congress, in the House,” he said. “That has to be the first thing that we do, and I think it’s the most urgent one. It’s the easiest.”



Tags Jeff Sessions Paul Ryan
See all Hill.TV See all Video