Lawmakers on Thursday implored President Barack Obama to pardon young immigrants temporarily protected from deportation for their immigration violations so that they won't be subject to removal under a Trump administration.
"We urge the president to provide security to these young people," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "I have spoken personally to children who are so frightened about what is to happen to them next. I think we owe it to these young people who have worked so hard to be part of America to have piece of mind."
The lawmakers said they want the pardons for young immigrants who have applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. To apply for DACA, the young people turned over to the government identifying information — their names, where they live and more.
Since the night of Trump's election, there has been anxiety and fear among people without legal status or whose protection from deportation could be revoked.
"The action we are asking the president to take is a matter of life and death.," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. "We are asking the president to pardon them for their undocumented status, which by definition happened while they were juveniles and children, brought here by their parents."
President-elect Donald Trump said during the campaign that he would immediately repeal all executive orders issued and executive actions taken by Obama, including the action that created DACA.
DACA has shielded from possible deportation some 750,000 immigrant teens and young adults who arrived in the U.S. or overstayed a visa before they were 16. It has given them a permit to work, study and obtain driver's licenses, among other things. The protection is temporary and has to be renewed every two years and many will see their protection expire next year.
According to an unnamed White House official, the president's clemency power does not allow giving legal status to any undocumented individual.
However, Lofgren said lawmakers were only seeking pardon of the immigration violation - entering the country illegally or overstaying a visa - not legal status or a work permit or immigration status.
"We never suggested use of constitutional powers to creates immigration status, it merely would protect them from deportation," Lofgren said in a telephone interview. "If the president has a better idea, let's hear it. But it's not the right thing to leave these kids just hanging out there."
"This group has already been vetted by the federal government. Remember we are talking about people who came forward, paid hundreds of dollars and ... provided their fingerprints and the government said, 'Go. You are good people.'"
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said one third of people protected by DACA are in her state. "When we ask immigrants to come out of the shadows, we never imagined a candidate who would run on a policy of mass deportation," said Chu. She added that the government credibility is at stake because it promised protection to immigrants if they turned over identifying information.
Rep. Lofgren said there is precedent such as when men who fled to Canada to avoid military service during the Vietnam War were pardoned and when President Abraham Lincoln pardoned Confederates who "tried to break up the nation."
In a fact sheet distributed by the lawmakers, they cite a July New York Times opinion piece written by Peter Markowitz, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the director of an immigration law clinic.
Markowitz writes in the article that the Constitution extends the president's pardon power to "all offenses against the United States," which "can be interpreted more broadly than just criminal offenses."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard emphasized that the lawmakers also were not asking for a pardon for all 11 million people not legally here. The request is limited to the young people who had received DACA protection from deportation and work permits, she said.