Paul Ryan Backs Bill to Give Dreamers Legal Status

Nightmare deferred? Photo: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

On Friday, Paul Ryan reiterated his belief that Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is unconstitutional — and, also, implored Donald Trump not to end it.

Asked about reports that the president intended to end DACA, which provides people who were brought to this country illegally as children with temporary protection from deportation, the House Speaker told his hometown radio station, “I actually don’t think he should do that.”

Ryan stipulated that, “President (Barack) Obama does not have the authority to do what he did” when he established the program. But the Speaker suggested that Trump should put humanitarian concerns above legalistic quibbles, until Congress can take legislative action to address the plight of the Dreamers (which is, more or less, exactly what Obama did when he established DACA in the first place).

“These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” Ryan continued. “And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.”

There are roughly 800,000 people in the United States who fit Ryan’s description. Many work and pay taxes. At a time when America’s labor force is contracting — and the nation needs more workers to subsidize the retirement of the baby-boom generation — this vast population of young, educated people longs for little more than the opportunity to continue contributing to our society, free from the fear of deportation.

This modest request has long attracted bipartisan sympathy — just not quite enough to inspire congressional action. After failing to grant these Dreamers legal status through legislative means — and deporting a good number of them — Barack Obama decided to grant them temporary protection from deportation through executive authority. Under DACA, Dreamers became eligible to enjoy a renewable, two-year period of immunity from deportation, and access to work permits.

The nativist portion of the GOP base despised this act of mercy for “illegals.” And the party’s moderates could comfortably cater to this xenophobic rage by insisting that they sympathized with the Dreamers’ plight — but not with Obama’s unconstitutional expansion of executive power.

The thorny implications of that legal argument are now catching up with the Trump administration. Republican officials from ten states have implored the president to end the illegal program — and pledged to sue his administration if it doesn’t. While Trump rarely passes up an opportunity to curry favor with his base by imposing needless cruelty on immigrants, his White House had previously been inclined to go easy on the Dreamers — not least, because public opinion is overwhelmingly on their side.

But faced with the prospect of having his commitment to law and order formally challenged — on immigration, no less — Trump is reportedly poised to terminate the program. According to McClatchy, the president plans to keep current DACA enrollees immune from deportation until their two-year work permits run out, but bar all other childhood arrivals from applying for immunity.

Or, at least, that’s what the president’s advisers thought he was planning, as of Thursday night.

Such a move would almost certainly provoke levels of protest and finger-wagging from corporate America unseen since the rollout of Trump’s initial travel ban.

To let Trump have his “law and order” and “love” for Dreamers, too, congressional Republicans are looking to take the kind of legislative action they refused to under Obama. North Carolina senator Thom Tillis is leading a group of GOP lawmakers in drafting what they call “a conservative Dream Act,” a bill that would provide childhood arrivals with a path to permanent residency, and, eventually, citizenship.

Ryan’s endorsement of that bill Friday suggests that it may actually stand a chance of passing.

Paul Ryan Backs Bill to Give Dreamers Legal Status