Coffman offers a legislative path to protecting undocumented ‘DACA’ children as Trump mulls political punt
AURORA | A plan President Donald Trump is expected to announce Tuesday for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children was embraced by some top Republicans on Monday and denounced by others as the beginning of a “civil war” within the party.
While the political tempest came to a boil over the weekend, Aurora GOP Rep. Mike Coffman was pushing a legislative move to make the deportation protections semi-permanent.
Coffman’s plan and threats to scuttle it or any similar measures was an immediate illustration of the potential battles ahead if Trump follows through with a plan that would hand a political hot potato to Republicans on the Hill who have a long history of dropping it.
Two people familiar with his decision making said Sunday that Trump was preparing to announce an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, but with a six-month delay intended to give Congress time to pass legislation that would address the status of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants covered by the program.
The move comes after a long and notably public deliberation. Despite campaigning as an immigration hard-liner, Trump has said he is sympathetic to the plight of the immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and in some cases have no memories of the countries they were born in.
But such an approach — essentially kicking the can down the road and letting Congress deal with it— is fraught with uncertainty and political perils that amount, according to one vocal opponent, to “Republican suicide.”
Still other Republicans say they are ready to take on a topic that has proven a non-starter and career-breaker for decades.
Coffman’s bipartisan bill would essentially extend DACA, via legislation. The bill was a move Coffman told the Aurora Sentinel was meant “to send a message to the Trump administration,” which is now facing pressure from 10 states threatening to continue a lawsuit against the the U.S. government if there isn’t an announcement to rescind DACA by Tuesday.
The program was enacted by executive order by President Barack Obama and affects nearly 800,000 people nationwide.
On the campaign trail Trump vowed to end the program, but when asked about the future of the program on Friday, Trump said he had a “great feeling” about DACA. More recently, however, attorney Jeff Sessions and White House counsel have said they wouldn’t defend the program in court. It’s unclear how a conflict between the Trump and Sessions might be resolved.
Coffman, along with Luis Gutierrez, a Democratic congressman from Chicago, introduced The Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, better known as the BRIDGE Act, into the House simultaneously with the Senate’s identical version, sponsored by Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Dick Durbin, D-IL.
The bill would continue the the Obama administration program for three years under the assumption Congress will find a permanent solution by then. Coffman along with several other Republicans believe DACA is unconstitutional, but Coffman said his bill would take care of that legality obstacle.
“I believe the president would sign it (the bill) if we could pass it,” Coffman said. “I believe the president just wants to let (the DACA issue) go, but now he doesn’t have a choice.”
To speed up the legislative process, the congressman said he intends to start a discharge petition, a mechanism in which 218 signatures from House members pushes the bill from committee to the floor for a vote.
“My hope is that I’ll certainly have the Democrats on board,” Coffman said, adding that if the bill passes the House he believes it will glide through the Senate.
“They (the Senate) won’t hold out,” Coffman said.
Levi Tillemann, a Democrat who is challenging Coffman, said he applauds what Coffman is doing with the BRIDGE Act, but the legislation comes “a little too late.”
“It’s like calling an ambulance after the crash, rather swerving to avoid the crash in the first place,” Tillemann said.
Tillemann said he’s particularly passionate about DACA because his adopted sister Dulcia was brought to the U.S. from Honduras as a child.
Jason Crow and David Aarestad, the other two Democratic opponents challenging Coffman, both highlighted how important DACA is, especially to the community of Aurora. But describe Coffman’s BRIDGE Act as belated and dissimilar to his other stances on immigration.
“Over 17,000 DREAMers in Colorado have been left in limbo, in constant fear of having those dreams torn away by an out-of-control Republican Party more interested in scoring political points than in protecting families,” Aarestad said in a statement. “Mixing messages by promising temporary relief through the BRIDGE Act on one hand, while supporting funding for a divisive wall with the other, leaves too many people with the justified concern that this a mirage.”
Crow said Coffman had “years to act on this priority,” but hadn’t until now “to beat the buzzer and run from his record with a gimmick.”
Aurora Schools say ending DACA would cause extreme impact
Community College of Aurora President Betsy Oudenhoven said the end of DACA would have a substantial impact on CCA, not only for those students who have fallen under the rule’s protection, but for the entire community.
“DACA allows these students to be fully engaged in their education and their communities. The freedom from fear allows them to make the best use of their intelligence, work ethic, and talent to make the kinds of contributions our society needs from our young people,” Oudenhoven said in an email exchange. “It takes a lot of motivation for these students to pursue a college degree and we don’t want them to lose hope that they too can pursue the American dream.”
That American dream isn’t something that is a foreign concept to those students whose parents brought them to the United States at a young age, Oudenhoven said. This country is the only country they’ve truly known and they have the same desire to contribute to their home as their peers who don’t have to live under a cloud of insecurity because of their immigration status.
“When we talk about young people who are undocumented it is important to remember that most of them came here with their families; many when they were very young children,”Oudenhoven said. “This is their country and they consider themselves Americans.They attend K-12 schools and then move on to higher education where they are working hard to achieve their dreams. They want to earn degrees, find jobs, and make positive contributions to their families and their communities.”
Aurora Public Schools passed a resolution this spring essentially declaring APS a ‘sanctuary school district.’ The resolution forbids school employees from divulging information about citizen status and directs the district to be prepared to handle children whose illegal immigrant parents might have been detained by federal immigration police.
The leadership at the University of Colorado including Don Elliman, the Chancellor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, signed off on a letter issued on Sept. 4 urged Congress to act in continuing the program and reaffirmed its support for DACA students, including a promise to never release any information about students to law enforcement unless compelled by a lawful subpoena or warrant.
“For years, the University of Colorado has welcomed DACA recipients to our campuses. DACA students enrich our community, inspire us with their commitment to their education and their futures, and add to the diversity of perspectives that makes colleges and universities in the United States unique. As the leaders of the University of Colorado, we cherish our DACA students and add our voices urging Congress to quickly find a pathway that will allow current and future undocumented students, all of whom have spent years being educated in the United States, to complete their studies without fear for their futures,” the statement read. “We will engage Colorado’s senators and representatives and offer our support. We will work with national educational organizations that are communicating their concerns for your futures to Congress and the White House. It’s important for you to know where we stand – and our message to the DACA recipients in our community is simple – we stand with you.”
Metro area gathers for DACA support
Gov. John Hickenlooper, state lawmakers and dozens of young immigrants and activists gathered at the State Capitol Friday and urged Trump to keep the federal protections for those immigrants whose parents brought them as children to the U.S. illegally.
Some 17,000 immigrants in Colorado have benefited under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows those brought by their parents without documentation to temporarily live, study and work in the U.S.
At a Capitol rally attended by Hickenlooper, Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and others, several immigrants spoke of the uncertainty they were experiencing.