President-elect Donald Trump walked back some his harsh rhetoric on immigration Wednesday, saying he planned to “work something out” for the 700,000 young people who came to the United States illegally as children – the so-called Dreamers.
Since winning the election, Mr. Trump has softened his stance on a few key issues. He’s said that he likely won’t pursue criminal charges against his former Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for using a private email server and would like to keep some aspects of the Affordable Care Act in place rather than repealing the entire 2010 healthcare law.
This group of young immigrants received a reprieve from deportation under President Obama, and have been issued work visas. Congressional members on both sides of the aisle have encouraged Trump to consider protecting the undocumented young people, who have grown up in America and identify with the country and its culture.
While Trump did not make a specific promise to keep Mr. Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, executive order in place, he did say he would like to find a way to keep those immigrants in the nation.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he told TIME in his interview for Person of the Year, which was announced Wednesday. “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.”
On the campaign trail, Trump referred to DACA as unconstitutional and promised to end it, a feat which he could easily accomplish by repealing the executive order and allowing the GOP-dominated Congress to draft legislation regarding the Dreamers.
That position was just one example of Trump’s strong anti-immigration campaign rhetoric, which garnered him significant support from some voters, but also made him a polarizing figure. Some activists decried the proposed border wall between Mexico and the US and demeaning generalizations Trump used to argue for the mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. But if Trump softens his position on immigrants, that could leave him at odd with supporters, some of whom include members of the self-described "alt-right," a white nationalist movement.
Already on Thursday, some Republicans pushed back on Trump’s latest stance.
"These Dreamers go on up to the age of 37 or 38 or maybe older," Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, who supported Trump during the election, said on CNN, arguing that many of the Dreamers had illegally crossed the border on their own will.
"They know what they're doing. It's not against their will," he added. "And they came here to live in the shadows."
But repealing DACA would likely come with its own political backlash. Many of the so-called Dreamers have become political activists and made names for themselves as faces of the movement, spreading awareness of their successes and valuable contributions to the nation. Many Americans have become sympathetic to their plight and would likely view an attack on their protected status with hostility.
“To all of a sudden have that pulled out from under you overnight, it makes you angry,” Lorella Praeli, a leader of the movement who was born in Peru and helped Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not enough to sit on the sidelines.”