Democrats Praise Supreme Court Decision To Uphold DACA
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois is with us next. He is the Senate Democratic minority whip, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. He has worked on immigration issues for many years, and we've called him after today's Supreme Court decision on DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 decision blocking the Trump administration's effort to end that program, which means that hundreds of thousands of people were brought to the U.S. as children get to maintain legal status.
Senator Durbin, welcome to the program.
RICHARD DURBIN: Thanks, Steve. It's good to be with you.
INSKEEP: What do you make of this decision?
DURBIN: Try to imagine, if you will, that you're waiting on a Supreme Court decision which will decide whether or not you can continue working as a nurse or a teacher or whether, as a medical student, you can complete your residency - or whether your family's going to be split up by deportation. That decision could have come at any moment. And you wait, wait and wonder. And this morning it came in the right way. By a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts writing the opinion, basically said that the way that President Trump ended this program was wrong. The words were arbitrary and capricious. For the moment, these people - 700,000 of them and their families - can breathe a sigh of relief.
INSKEEP: How long is that moment, do you think? For example, is it technically possible for the administration to pick up, try again and try to end the program in something the court would consider to be a proper way?
DURBIN: Yes, but I hope they won't try, and let me tell you why. Forty-one thousand of these 700,000 are critical health care heroes, workers on the frontline against COVID-19. Two-hundred thousand of them are essential employees. They're doing their part in one of the most trying moments in American history, and they're just asking for a chance to stay here and finish the job. I would implore the president - give them a break, at least through this calendar year. Let them continue to do their work for America.
INSKEEP: Doesn't this throw it back at you - throw it back at Congress to come up with a permanent fix for the DACA recipients or to do something else?
DURBIN: There's no question about that, Steve. Twenty years ago - 20 years ago, I introduced the DREAM Act, and we're still trying to get it passed. The Democrats and Speaker Pelosi have done their part. They passed the Dream and Promise Act and sent it over to the Senate. Senator McConnell has refused to bring it up. We can solve this problem once and for all - change the law and do it in the right way on a bipartisan basis in the Senate. And I went to the floor this morning after this decision and really asked Senator McConnell to consider that possibility.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk through the politics, at least as you see them as a Democrat. People who vote for you would broadly support this. It would appear from polling that an awful lot of people who vote for Republicans also support DACA recipients. Even if they're less sympathetic to other groups of immigrants here without papers, they tend to be very sympathetic to the so-called DREAMers. There must be some Republicans who at least privately would like to do something here. Even the president has indicated he would like to sign such a bill to keep them here permanently. But do you see a way that could happen given that there is also strong opposition within the Republican Party to doing anything?
DURBIN: Well, it could. But remember - the Republicans are in majority in the Senate as I'm reminded every day when I go to work. And of course, the president's in the White House. He would have to give a signal that he's given before that if we can come up with a bipartisan solution by legislation, he'll support it. He's disappointed me in the past when he made that promise and didn't keep it. But I hope that he would do it this time.
And I think many Republicans want to see this issue resolved in the right way. They understand this is a special category of people. I frankly have a much more expansive view when it comes to immigration, but I'm so focused now on the DREAMers and DACA.
INSKEEP: Would you expect any action on this or any efforted action on this this year given that you have so many desperate problems to wrestle with - the pandemic, the economic crisis, on and on?
DURBIN: Well, I can tell you we have many problems to face. But we can - we can face this one and take the time to do it. In the last four or five weeks in the Senate, we've done precious little. We did manage to pass a major lands bill yesterday. But we're going now to policing, and that's important, I wouldn't gainsay that. We need to make sure we're providing relief to unemployed workers and businesses. But there's time. There's a few days that we could bring the Dream and Promise bill from the House to the Senate floor and get it passed.
INSKEEP: We mentioned you're the Democratic whip. Your job is to count votes. Generally, you're counting votes on your side, of course. But in a case like DACA, you need to count on the other side. I guess you'd need to get to 60. Do you see more than a dozen Republicans out there who would vote for a DACA fix if it were brought to the floor?
DURBIN: It could happen. But let me be honest with you - an election which brings more people that feel as I do on the issue would make it a lot easier. Right now it be a death-defying act in the Senate, but we ought to try. For the sake of these 700,000 young people and their families, we owe it to them to give it a try.
INSKEEP: Do you think that that is the more likely path here - to make this an election issue and see what happens in 2021?
DURBIN: I hope that the issue's resolved before then. And I think the House has provided a perfect opportunity with the Dream and Promise Act that they've passed. And I hope that Senator McConnell will consider taking it up. If not, I hope there are enough people across America who understand that these young people deserve a chance to call America home.
INSKEEP: Senator Durbin, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.
DURBIN: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Richard Durbin is a Democratic senator from the state of Illinois. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has been listening along with me. And Sue, he tried to hold out some kind of hope for action for DACA recipients here in 2020. Is that a realistic hope?
SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
I thought he was pretty clear-eyed when he characterized it as a death-defying act for Senate Republicans to entertain taking up the DREAM Act as a standalone measure this year. And I think that's probably the correct characterization. The DREAM Act that would allow for a permanent legislative fix to the solution about the children of people who - or people who were brought here illegally as children, many obviously, as we know now, adults and living as citizens in this country or trying to - has always been a very popular bill. He is right that it has been bipartisan. He is right that many Republicans over the years have supported it.
But the DACA fix has always been seen as part of a broader immigration solution, that it would be the dessert in the immigration puzzle because they are the most sympathetic and most easy thing to fix in this immigration question. But then it gets bogged down, Steve. It gets bogged down in the debates we've had time and time again about securing the border, building the wall under this president, paths to citizenship for others. What do you do with their family members, with their parents? All of those questions always get tied up once they try to attempt this legislation, and it always falls under that weight.
And it's not just the Trump administration. It's important for people remember, as Durbin noted, this has been a debate Congress has not been able to solve for 20 years. He originally introduced that legislation in 2001. It is a long-running problem. And I think it's pretty clear that Congress is not willing or able to resolve it ahead of the November 2020 elections.
INSKEEP: I should mention - I was just looking up an interview from June of 2013, almost exactly seven years ago, with Richard Durbin and then-Senator Jeff Flake. They thought they had an immigration solution then - a broader solution - didn't pass then under President Obama. And now you have President Trump. It is a difficult situation no matter who's president, isn't it?
DAVIS: That's correct. And it's important remember it hasn't always been just Republicans opposed to it. Democrats historically have opposed it as well. Democrats support it more uniformly now, and there's more Republican opposition these days.
INSKEEP: Sue, thanks for your insights.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis. And for those just joining us, the Supreme Court has blocked the Trump administration from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program continues. Hundreds of thousands of people maintain a form of legal status, at least for now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.