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If Trump Goes After ‘Dreamers,’ Republican Loyalty May Be Tested

31 Jan

By Carl Hulse

WASHINGTON — The powerful and poignant images and stories of refugees and international travelers caught at airports over the weekend by President Trump’s immigration order provoked sympathy and outrage around the world.

Now think of those moving personal tales and pictures multiplied exponentially to encompass thousands of young immigrants living in the United States — many more culturally American than foreign — and being forcibly removed from their homes, schools and jobs.

Some Republicans have contemplated those potentially searing depictions and worry they could provoke an outcry that would dwarf this weekend’s response to the new restrictions. It is a chief reason they are anxious about precipitately moving forward with any effort to undo the Obama administration’s program to grant relief to the so-called Dreamers: tens of thousands of younger unauthorized immigrants who participate in a program that allows them to remain in the United States, attend school, receive driver’s licenses and hold jobs without the threat of deportation.

The weekend tumult was over a few hundred people who were being denied entry as refugees from violence across the Middle East, as well as over some legal residents who were being barred from returning. Any Trump administration effort to overturn the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative and then deport participants could ensnare almost 800,000 people who are deeply enmeshed in communities, churches and campuses across the nation.

“After this weekend, if they go after Dreamers, they are going to be going after the best-known, most popular and most beloved immigrants in America,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group.

“They are well known,” he said. “They go to our kids’ high schools; they attend universities. They are lawyers, doctors, chemists and construction workers, teachers’ aides and health care providers. They are leading extraordinary lives. They are American in all but paperwork.”

What the new administration will ultimately do regarding the DACA program — as the Obama initiative is typically known — remains unknown. President Trump promised during the campaign that he would immediately end it, drawing applause and acclaim from his supporters, but he has substantially tempered his comments since being elected. He recently tried to assure the participating immigrants that they had little to fear from him.

“I do have a big heart,” Mr. Trump told ABC News in an interview, suggesting he would reach a decision in the next month. Speaker Paul D. Ryan has made similar suggestions that there would be no abrupt change in status for immigrants who had been brought illegally to the United States at a young age. Mr. Trump also likes to emphasize that his administration will focus on deporting criminals.

In some respects, the immigration executive order that sowed chaos over the weekend could be seen as a way for the new administration to appease impatient backers demanding quick action on border security while sparing the White House the even more politically difficult fight over tampering with or terminating the Obama administration program.

Some Republican hard-liners and anti-immigration groups are already clamoring for Mr. Trump to follow through on his DACA commitment.

Any failure to do so will probably provoke an uproar of its own from unhappy Trump supporters. Not to mention that the president can count leading opponents of the program among his closest advisers.

To counter potential unrest, the White House can now point to its suspension of the refugee program and the consternation it has caused among Democrats and the news media — proof to this administration that the White House is doing something right. On Monday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the immigration executive order showed that Mr. Trump was “doing exactly what he told the American people he would do.”

But some immigration proponents worry that the weekend’s legal and political clashes could move things in the other direction — toward at least some significant changes in DACA.

That thinking is based on what is emerging as a Trump administration pattern. He and his top aides keep things stirred up to create an atmosphere of combat and confrontation with opponents and critics in a way that rallies their constituency and tests the limits of their policy ideas.

Given that White House officials again on Monday expressed their sense that the new order had been carried out smoothly, they could take that as encouragement to plunge ahead with yet more action.

And most Republicans in Congress seemed to back the president despite widespread outrage from Democrats and some stiff dissent from Republican senators.

“I think most Americans support these common-sense measures,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said in a typical statement.

Most of the Republican criticism on Capitol Hill came from the Senate, where members have to answer to and be in sync with a broader constituency. In the House, the vast majority of the 240 Republicans represent districts carried by Mr. Trump in November. Just 23 House Republicans are from districts won by Hillary Clinton.

Still, Republican loyalty could be tested by an aggressive move against the Dreamer program. Mr. Sharry, the immigration activist, predicted an outpouring of public resistance should the administration move ahead.

“The first time a Dreamer gets put in a detention center and readied for a deportation bus, those crowds you see at the airports, you are going to see crowds at least as big surrounding the outside of detention centers,” he said. “What you are seeing at the airports this weekend will be multiplied by the hundreds and perhaps thousands.”

And for some Republicans, those images would be a nightmare.