The Kansas congressional delegation expressed broad support for immigration changes after President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program shielding young people illegally brought to the United States as children from deportation.
Some endorsed effectively extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States.
Others stopped short of that.
"I support President Trump’s reversal of this unconstitutional Obama-era executive order. This decision gives Congress time to fix our broken immigration system," Rep. Ron Estes said. "Congress can do this by securing our borders, reviewing our immigration process, and not providing amnesty to those who disregard our nation’s laws."
Estes did not say in his statement whether he supports Congress passing a program like DACA. A spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for clarification.
Whether Congress will act to continue protections for the nearly 800,000 immigrants in the program is unclear. Some 13,000 people would have been eligible in Kansas, according to the Migration Policy Institute. More than 6,800 people are estimated to have DACA status in Kansas.
The Trump administration announced Tuesday it will stop processing applications for the program.
It is not immediately voiding DACA work permits, which means the immigrants, who call themselves Dreamers, will not be affected for several months. But the move sets up a ticking clock for Congress, which faces several big issues this fall, including keeping the government running, raising the debt ceiling and tax reform.
About 100 Wichita residents, including several DACA recipients and some elected officials, gathered in downtown Wichita on Tuesday for a rally supporting the DACA program. Several shared how the program has allowed them to work, attend school and live without fear of being deported.
"An immigration status does not define who we are," said Carolina Hernandez, who was granted DACA status in 2012.
"We have to hold each other more than ever and support one another," she said. "We may not know what our future looks like in six months, but we know we have an opportunity to come together and push Congress to pass the DREAM Act."
Will Congress act?
Rep. Roger Marshall said Congress must “do right” by Dreamers in calling on lawmakers to act.
Congress “must use legal, legislative avenues to figure out how to help these young people, so long as they follow our laws. My priorities on this issue have always been, and will remain, to secure the border and help develop a workable visa for our farmers and producers back home," Marshall said.
Sen. Jerry Moran’s office pointed to his comments at a town hall in Great Bend last month, where he said DACA "makes sense" to him.
"I have indicated in the past that I am supportive of DACA and believe that the humanity aspect of this…is important: no fault of their own, circumstances beyond their control," Moran said.
Sen. Pat Roberts praised Trump’s decision in allowing Congress to resolve the issue.
“Americans need to be convinced our borders are secure. Congress needs to fix our broken immigration system, which includes providing a commonsense and compassionate plan for children whose parents brought them here illegally,” he said.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins said the program included those who did not come to America on their own terms, but simply followed their parents. She said she looked forward to creating a "permanent solution through the legislative process" over the coming weeks.
Kansas lawmakers will face pressure from education leaders to ensure Dreamers are not subject to deportation. Wichita State University President John Bardo said he will offer his support for a solution that allows DACA students to remain at the school until graduation and pursue lives and careers in Kansas “free from the fear of deportation.”
“Students registered under the DACA program are important contributors to Wichita State and add to the energy and intellect of our campus. Across Kansas and across the nation, the major professional associations in higher education and the presidents of research universities are supportive of DACA's continuation,” Bardo said.
Kansas does not have a Democratic member of Congress, but the state party said in a statement that individuals with DACA status are everyday Kansans. “They were brought here as children, fleeing horrific situations unimaginable to most of us. Deporting them is not just the wrong thing to do, it’s costly to Kansas’ future.”
Kansas won’t sue
Trump’s decision to shift the onus to Congress came after a group of Republican attorneys general – including Derek Schmidt of Kansas – threatened to sue if the program was not ended.
Schmidt said Tuesday that Kansas will not sue. Congress should enact immigration reform to "humanely and responsibly" fix the problem once and for all, he said.
"The obvious reality is our country is not going to round up and deport 800,000 people who in the past were brought here as children, grew up here, have committed no crimes, and now have relied in good faith on the Obama administration’s false but enticing promises," Schmidt said.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running for governor and co-chairs Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, told The Eagle he had been advising states who were threatening legal action. Jennifer Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Schmidt, said Kobach had not discussed DACA with the attorney general’s office.
It is up to each state to decide whether to take legal action, Kobach indicated. A judge might now say a lawsuit would be moot because the program will end in a matter of months, he said.
Kobach said he would have preferred that the program end more quickly, but added, “This is still a very good day for the rule of law. A slow end to the program is still an end to the program.”
Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Eagle; Greg Hadley and Kate Irby of McClatchy DC; and the Associated Press