In words today that will no doubt ease the fears of hundreds of thousands of students, President Donald Trump’s press secretary told reporters the president would focus his deportation efforts on undocumented aliens who had committed crimes, not on the so-called DREAMers, who came to America as the children of undocumented adults, the Associated Press reports.
Despite hints during the campaign that Mr Trump would reverse executive orders from President Obama—which many people assumed would include the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA—Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary, said Monday that Mr Trump would largely renew Mr Obama’s focus on criminals, not on innocent children.
“That’s where the priority’s going to be, and then we’re going to continue to work through the entire number of folks that are here illegally,” the AP quoted Mr Spicer as saying at a press conference. The Trump administration would also focus their enforcement policies, he said, on immigrants who have overstayed their visas.
The continuation of DACA, at least for now, brings a sigh of relief to schools, students, and their families across the country. At least 700,000 young people are known to be in the country under the protection of DACA.
And at least three principals from those students’ schools have told me since the election that kids are coming into their offices crying over the rumors that Mr Trump was planning to end DACA. Hundreds of mayors, university presidents, and other local officials urged Mr Trump to spare children who came to America with their undocumented parents, many of whom have known no life outside the US.
We can’t squander the talent and dedication of hardworking DREAMers, who only know America as home.
— Dick Durbin (@DickDurbin) January 19, 2017
Other politicians and university leaders, who in some cases toyed with the idea of establishing “sanctuary” status for their towns or university campuses, were quick to praise the apparent focus signaled by the Trump administration.
“I am glad the Trump administration is prioritizing their focus on those who have committed serious crimes,” the Miami Herald quoted US Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, as saying. “I am willing and ready to work with the administration on fixing our dysfunctional immigration system.”
“I’m heartened by the indication that deporting DREAMers is not the top issue for the Trump administration,” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Miami Republican, said in an email to the paper’s editorial board. “These young people are contributing to our economy and participating as active members of our society. They should be afforded every opportunity to continue to giving back to our country, the country they know and love.”
Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat who served as Mr Obama’s chief of staff before resigning to become the mayor of Chicago, was one of the mayors who urged the president not to turn the focus to children here under DACA.
“I delivered to the president-elect, his senior adviser and his chief of staff a letter signed by  mayors, put together from across the country, about our DACA students and that they were working hard toward the American dream,” CBS News quoted Mr Emanuel as saying last month after meeting with Mr Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Continuing from his predecessor’s recognition that DACA protects innocent people, many of whom are young children, even Mr Trump signaled a chance last month that he would continue to delay any reversal of DACA into his presidency:
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said in a Time Magazine interview. “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.”
There is some disagreement over the meaning of recent executive orders, however. While the press secretary essentially said the priorities for deportation don’t include students here under DACA, other legal experts say the executive orders will promote deportation of DREAMers.
Trump's lying when sez he wants to work something out for DREAMERs; His Exec Order is a blueprint 4 mass deportation https://t.co/V6E0tAhkjN
— David Leopold (@DavidLeopold) January 26, 2017
Mr Leopold is an immigration attorney, who has also said that the order, created by smart lawyers, is “written to include everybody, while looking like it’s chasing criminals.”
For example, the specific language in the order includes as a “criminal” anyone who has engaged in “fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency,” which includes people who have used a false Social Security number to obtain a job. Many undocumented immigrants do that.