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Trump Appears to Soften on Deporting Thousands of Young Immigrants

13 Dec

By Amy Chozick

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump on Wednesday appeared to soften his stance on whether to deport the more than 700,000 young people who entered the country illegally as children and were permitted to stay by President Obama.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Mr. Trump told Time magazine. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The immigrants, who call themselves Dreamers, are likely to present Mr. Trump with one of the first major policy tests of his administration, as his campaign promise to take a tough stance on immigration clashes with lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill who have implored Mr. Trump not to deny these young adults protective status.

As Mr. Trump has tempered some of his more contentious campaign vows, including saying he would not seek to jail Hillary Clinton, his promise to take a tougher stance toward unauthorized immigrants is one his base of supporters is likely to demand that he keep. “He was not particularly interested in focusing on prosecuting Hillary Clinton any further because he was focused on health care and immigration,” Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, told Fox News on Sunday.

In the Time interview, part of the magazine’s naming of Mr. Trump its person of the year, the president-elect did not go into specifics or say whether he would reverse his promise to overturn Mr. Obama’s executive actions, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has shielded immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Undoing Mr. Obama’s protections for Dreamers would be one of the simplest moves Mr. Trump could take on immigration. He could withdraw the president’s executive order and let Congress address the young immigrants legislatively, which several lawmakers crave to do next year. Or Mr. Trump could do nothing, leaving the order in place.

At a meeting between the president-elect and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago on Wednesday, the topic of what to do with the young immigrants dominated. Mr. Emanuel, a former chief of staff to Mr. Obama, told reporters afterward that he discussed White House operations and immigration with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Emanuel also said that he had presented Mr. Trump with a letter signed by 14 mayors who agree that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country. “They were working hard toward the American dream,” Mr. Emanuel said. “We should embrace them rather than do a bait and switch.”

During the campaign, Mr. Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” Mr. Obama’s executive action on Dreamers, calling it unconstitutional. But in recent weeks, Mr. Obama has said that he has urged Mr. Trump to consider leaving the provision in place.

Many of Mr. Trump’s advisers and cabinet members, including his nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, however, strongly oppose Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration and other measures that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

In the Senate, Mr. Sessions proposed a measure to defund Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration, and he supported a ban on all undocumented immigrants, a proposal that had scant support even among Republicans. If confirmed as attorney general, Mr. Sessions would hold significant power over the nation’s immigration policies.

Mr. Trump, who has said that Mr. Sessions inspired his thinking on immigration, largely based his candidacy on a hard-line stance against undocumented immigrants, including a vow to “build a great, great wall on our southern border” to curb the flow of immigrants from Mexico.

In an interview with CBS News last month, Mr. Trump said his priority would be deporting undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes. “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminals and have criminal records — gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million,” Mr. Trump said.

Days later, during an interview with editors and reporters at The New York Times, Mr. Trump said, “I feel very strongly about an immigration bill that I think even the people in this room can be happy.”

Without offering details, he went on to describe his proposed bill as “fair and just and a lot of other things,” explaining that he had been thinking about the issue of immigration for “50 years.”

Any efforts to deport Dreamers would be met with intense political pushback. Since setbacks early in the Obama administration, this group of young people has become a potent political force. Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign recruited a top leader of the movement, the Peru-born Lorella Praeli, to lead her Latino outreach efforts.

And campaigns portraying Dreamers as valedictorians and medical students have spread awareness about them, a fact Mr. Trump seemed to acknowledge in the Time interview.

On Wednesday, some activists expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump’s comments, pointing to his earlier promises and heated anti-immigrant language during the campaign.

“We expect no pivot, no softening,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy organization. “But we are mounting a massive resistance.”