In the interview with Time Magazine that accompanies his selection as the Person of the Year, Donald Trump raised eyebrows with a comment that he will “work something out” for illegal aliens who came to the US as minors. Trump had previously said that the illegal immigrants, known as “DREAMers” for the DREAM Act that would have given them a path to legal status, would have to be deported.
Trump told Time in the Nov. 23 interview, “I want Dreamers for our children also. We’re going to work something out. On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation. We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. But that’s a very tough situation.”
The DREAM Act was a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2001, but never passed into law. The law would allow illegal immigrants who entered the country before they turned 16 to apply for conditional resident status if they have five years of residency, earn a high school diploma or GED, show good moral character and pass background checks. Permanent residency could be granted if they serve in the US military or attend a higher education institution for two years. The DREAM acronym stands for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.”
Although the DREAM Act never became law, President Obama used Executive Orders to defer deportation for young illegals who have clean records. Obama’s Executive Order was the basis for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives some DREAMers exemption from deportation and two-year work permits. Trump said in the campaign that he would terminate the program.
The Texas Tribune profiled several DREAMers in a post-election article. Many came as young teenagers to be with parents who were already in the US. Jessica Azua was 14 when she came to the US illegally. Now, at 25, she is graduate of Texas A&M. Edgar Navarrete, now 22 and a student at the University of Texas at Austin, came to the US with his parents as a toddler and has no memory of his hometown in Mexico. Illegal immigrants who came to the US at a young age under the direction of their parents have no lives in their native countries to return to.
Trump has reversed position on immigration before. Before running as a hardliner on immigration, Trump told DREAM activists in 2013, “You’ve convinced me” according to NBC Latino. In August, Trump considered a new immigration position in the midst of the campaign before reversing his reversal. Even as he seems to consider a compromise on the DREAMers, Trump has appointed immigration hardliners to his cabinet.
Trump has said since the election that he still intends to build his wall, but other aspects of his immigration policy may be subject to change. During the campaign, he insisted on deportation of all illegal aliens, but has since said on “60 Minutes” that deporting violent criminals will be a priority, then “after the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people.”
In the Time interview, Trump continues to call for a wall. “We’re going to build the wall. I’m going to build the wall. We’re going to have strong borders. But we’re also going to have people coming across the borders because we need workers.”
He also hints at other aspects of an immigration reform plan, which may see a change from the current family-based system to one that seeks to match immigrants to the needs of the US workforce. “We have to be able to have people come in to our country, because that’s good for all of us. It’s good for them, but it’s good for all of us. But we’re going to have very strong borders. We’re not going to have illegals coming in. But we’re going to have people coming in, but we’re also going to have them coming in based to a certain extent on merit.”
Deviation from his hardline deportation policy could cause a rift in Trump’s base, but might help more moderates to get behind Trump. Polling over the past few years has consistently shown that most Americans support a path to legalization for illegal aliens. Even exit polls of Republican primary voters, including many Trump voters, showed that the party was roughly split down the middle on the issue of legalization and that most opposed deportation of all illegals.