WASHINGTON — The "Dreamers" who found their American dream threatened last week, when President Trump promised to end a program offering temporary legal status to young illegal immigrants unless Congress acts, may find new hope in part through the efforts of two House Republicans who represent Western New York.
Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence and Rep. Tom Reed of Corning have both signed on to legislation that would essentially revive the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Started by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 without congressional approval, Republicans have long argued that Obama didn't have the legal authority to create the program. Last week Trump agreed, saying he would end DACA in six months if Congress didn't pass a legislative solution.
Now Collins and Reed have joined about 30 other House Republicans in pushing legislation that would fix the problem. Collins' support could be important, given that he was the first House member to endorse Trump last year and remains close to the White House.
“Just like President Trump and other Members of Congress, I recognize that these young men and women were brought to our country illegally, with no fault of their own,” Collins said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to create long-term certainty for these individuals.”
On his weekly conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Reed agreed. He said the bipartisan "Problem Solvers Caucus" that he co-chairs might be able to craft a compromise that ties a solution for the "Dreamers" to broader immigration and national security legislation.
Like Collins, Reed is a cosponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican.
"It's recognizing that the children that have come here that have good moral character, that have not demonstrated any kind of national security threat or engaged in any kind of criminal activity, that they be given an opportunity to stay here with a permanent legal status," Reed said of the legislation. "To me that's a first step in the conversation and a very reasonable step, and that's why we supported it."
Both Collins and Reed called for that bill to be wrapped into larger legislation that would enhance border security and deal with other important border issues.
"Comprehensive border security legislation is long overdue, and so is comprehensive immigration reform," Collins said.
Collins, however, said he would also support a narrower approach that would just fix the "Dreamer" problem — and he stressed that the bill he's backing doesn't constitute a free pass for young undocumented aliens.
"The RAC Act is not amnesty," Collins said. "Before applying for a green card, the individuals in this program would have completed ten years of conditional permanent legal status."
Reed, however, said the measure protecting the Dreamers is more likely to pass as part of more wide-ranging immigration legislation.
He said that legislation also must include a solution that allows farmers in his district and elsewhere to get the temporary immigrant workers that they need. Reed, Collins and other House members plan to meet with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta later this week to discuss that issue.
The local representatives' latest comments on the "Dreamer" issue came on the same day that the Trump White House appeared to back away from its earlier effort to tie a solution for the Dreamers to funding for the president's promised wall at the Mexican border.
The president's legislative director, Marc Short, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that Trump still believes a border wall is necessary. But he added that the administration does not “want to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible.”
That's good news to Reed, who told reporters that a wall for the length of the Mexican border may not be what security experts deem to be the best solution to border security.
"We should not limit ourselves to just a physical structure," Reed said. "We can do better than that."
Democrats — led by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York — have been saying for months that they will not permit funding for a border wall to be tied to a solution for the Dreamers.
Instead, Schumer said last week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, should put simpler legislation aiding the Dreamers up for a vote.
"It will receive bipartisan support and I believe it would pass by a significant margin," Schumer said.
Like virtually all congressional Democrats, Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo also supports legislation giving the Dreamers legal status.
"There's 800,000 children left in limbo right now," he said. "We're going to have to figure this out somehow."