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New Trump Immigration Memo Revives Call for Obama to Pardon All Undocumented Immigrants, Extend DACA

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A newly revealed memo from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team sheds light on his plans to reverse immigration policies put in place by the Obama administration, and asks for data on recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This comes as more than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to Obama in December asking him to take action to protect their names and private information. “We all asked these young people to come forward, willingly and voluntarily, and guaranteed them that the information about themselves, and, more importantly, their parents and relatives in this country that might or might not be undocumented, would be protected,” says our guest Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We also speak with Cesar Zamudio, a freshman at Columbia University who is an undocumented immigrant and a recipient of DACA.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A newly revealed memo from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team sheds light on his plans to reverse immigration policies put in place by the Obama administration and to expand the border wall. It reportedly asked the Department of Homeland Security about its ability to expand the use of immigrant detention centers and an aerial surveillance system, and whether federal workers altered biographic information kept about immigrants. An agency official told Reuters it interpreted the request to mean the transition team wanted to ensure workers were not altering the data in order to protect recipients of President Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has so far shielded 750,000 young people from deportation.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in December asking him to take action to protect the names and private information of those enrolled in DACA. In a minute, we’ll be joined by one of its lead signatories. Human rights advocates have also called on Obama to pardon all undocumented immigrants in the United States before Trump takes office. They include Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, who spoke out in a message posted on YouTube last month.

NOAM CHOMSKY: President Obama, to his credit, has given—issued personal pardons in deserving cases. But he should go far beyond. He should proceed to what is in fact an urgent necessity: to grant a general pardon to 11 million people who are living and working here, productive citizens in all but name, threatened with deportation by the incoming administration. This would be a horrible humanitarian tragedy, a moral outrage; can be averted by a general pardon for immigration infractions, which the president could issue. And we should join to urge him to carry out this necessary step without delay.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Capitol Hill, where we’re joined by Congressman Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We’re also joined in Manchester, New Hampshire, by Cesar Zamudio, a freshman at Columbia University who’s undocumented, an immigrant, a recipient of DACA, active with the sanctuary campus campaign, came with his family to the U.S. from the country of Colombia, where he was five years old.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Congressman Raúl Grijalva, tell us what you’re calling on President Obama to do in his last week.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Simple—a simple request, and based on the chilling request from the Trump transition team about data and names, relative not only to the DACA students and young people protected by that executive order, but going beyond that. And our request is to protect those names, to protect the confidentiality. We all asked these young people to come forward, willingly and voluntarily, and guaranteed them that the information about themselves, and, more importantly, their parents and relatives in this country that might or might not be undocumented, would be protected. We’re asking the president to uphold that commitment that we made to those young people, and to do so.

In terms of the pardon, it is a—it is an overall protection. There’s no doubt that the Trump administration, part of the red meat that he ran on from the first day when he announced his candidacy was a very extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric that he kept up through the whole campaign—the wall, deportation, more detention. And I think that that particular piece of red meat, he’s going to throw out every once in a while and try to—of all the commitments that he’s made, this is the one that is most disturbing, because it’s one that he will try to fulfill through his presidency. And I really believe that we need to not pretend that that is not happening, and, more importantly, begin to push back, begin to strategize, begin to unify around how we protect the undocumented in this country, how we not only protect them, but push back in a very concerted and resistive way to what Trump is going to try to do.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman Grijalva, in November, Trump reiterated his pledge to deport up to 3 million undocumented people during an interview with 60 Minutes. This is 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asking him about that.

LESLEY STAHL: Let’s go through very quickly some of the promises you made, and tell us if you’re going to do what you said—


LESLEY STAHL: —or you’re going to change it in any way. Are you really going to build a wall?


LESLEY STAHL: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress. Would you accept a fence?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: For certain areas, I would. But certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this. This is called construction. But a fence will be—

LESLEY STAHL: So, part wall, part fence?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, it could be—it could be some fencing.

LESLEY STAHL: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers—we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could even be 3 million. We are getting them out of our country, or we’re going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Trump speaking on 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl. Congressman Grijalva, a couple of questions. One is the issue of—he did not say that he was going to seek to deport the DACA—the so-called DACA youth, but, of course, if he reverses the executive order, that means that they no longer would have the ability to, for instance, have work permits, etc. So what can be done by the Democrats in Congress to prevent Trump from actually moving to start deporting some of the DACA people? And what’s your sense of the possibilities right now, given the fact that you don’t have a majority in the Congress?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, certainly in the House, the possibilities are not very bright to try to have a—provide legislative relief to the DACA young people. The Senate is talking about a bipartisan bill. The only concern I have is that it caps it at the students that are eligible—that have become eligible up to this point. I think there should be no cap. As young people age in to DACA, they should be—should have the same right and ability to apply and to have that protection extended to them. Legislatively, it would make it permanent. It would be a legal protection for the long haul. I think that’s a possibility. But like anything that’s going to be worked out in a bipartisan way in this political atmosphere we have here in Washington, we have to make sure that it is not something that in the long term is going to prove to continue to be punitive to young people, restrict their ability to do what they need to do with their lives in this country, and, more importantly, not to cap it at a certain number where it leaves a million—potentially another million people out of the process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what—on the issue of the pardon, of course, there is a precedent for this. Jimmy Carter, in his—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —waning days, provided a pardon for all people who had been convicted of draft violations during the Vietnam War, and that was tens of thousands of people. So this has happened in the past. The prospects or your hope in terms of what President Obama could do in his last weeks in office?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Certainly, it is a hope. The attorney general, Lynch, made a statement that that was—early on, that that was something that legally she didn’t feel could be done by the president through executive order or through the pardon powers that he has. Many of us and other legal scholars feel differently. And we really feel that this would be a testament and a statement so that—I think, to avoid what is going to be potentially one of the most divisive, difficult and turbulent domestic issues, when the deportation issue becomes primary to this administration—the expansion of private prisons, which have been a nightmare for detainees throughout the last five years. And, you know, President Obama did the most deportations of any president. And I don’t know how this president can say that 3 million, 4 million, and redefine what criminal—the definition of what a criminal activity is, in order to reach those goals. Those are all major concerns in—at the local level, and communities are already organizing to protect their immigrant families in their communities and to provide them both sanctuary and protection. And I think that’s where the fight is going to be, as well, at a very—very much at a local level.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grijalva, we want you to stay with us to talk about also what’s happened in the first session.


AMY GOODMAN: Enormous blowback around the Republicans’ first move, forcing them to turn around. But before we do that, we wanted to bring in Cesar Zamudio, who is a freshman at Columbia University, an undocumented student. Cesar, could you briefly tell us your story and what you’re calling for?

CESAR ZAMUDIO: Yes, definitely. Good morning. Thank you for having me. Basically, my story is that my family and I came to the United States on tourist visas. My parents decided while they were here, after staying on the visa, that it was better for us to start a life here and for my brother and I to start school here, so they overstayed their visa. Since then, I have gone to school. I have—

AMY GOODMAN: You were five years old?

CESAR ZAMUDIO: —you know, done my fair share—I was five years old, yes. And I’ve paid, you know, taxes. I went to boarding school. I’m at Columbia now. So, it’s sort of been like proving that I’m an asset to this country, that I’m here to contribute to this society and to really be a part of this great country and to finally be recognized as an American, because this is the only country that I, you know, know and love.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cesar, at what point in your life did you realize, first of all, that you were undocumented or in the country illegally? And what did it mean—and were you then a recipient of DACA? And how has that—if so, how has that changed your situation in life?

CESAR ZAMUDIO: Yeah, I first realized that I was undocumented when, I think, I was eight. My dad had lost his job because he didn’t have the proper paperwork to work at the job that he was working at. So, I sort of—like, my mom told me that I was undocumented. I didn’t really know what it meant until I was getting older and older, and I saw that, you know, my parents couldn’t work, my dad kept getting stopped for driving without a license—you know, small things that sort of make you realize that other kids are living a different life than you. You know, my peers, they have—they can spend time with their families. Their parents can drive. But it was sort of different for me. So that’s when I knew, and that’s when I realized. And then I first applied for DACA when it came out in 2012. You know, as soon as I was able to, I applied. Since then, I renewed in 2014 and 2016. I just got my new renewal, that will expire in 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you documented now?

CESAR ZAMUDIO: I have DACA. That doesn’t count as a legal status, so I wouldn’t say I’m documented. But we, you know, have a phrase, “unDACAmented,” to sort of supplement that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you calling for? Because your call goes beyond people on DACA.

CESAR ZAMUDIO: Yeah. I’m calling for sort of the country to come together and realize that, you know, these laws have real human implications. They have real human consequences. You know, there are people here who just want to contribute to this country, people who have lived here for a long time, such as my family, and just want to continue to pay taxes, continue to work, just get a driver’s license and really be recognized as Americans, because that’s what they are.

But I do realize that there are people who do commit crimes, that we do need to get them out of the country, because they are not an asset to this country. But, you know, when we talk about criminal aliens and criminal immigrants, there are people who commit like minor crimes that could be classified as criminal immigrants, so it’s—there are nuances that we have to really look into as a country and realize that not everyone—you know, not all immigrants are the same, and every immigrant has a different story than every other immigrant. So, I’m really calling for this country to come together in an act of compassion and in an act of reflecting on what the core principles of this country are, of equality, of freedom, of, you know, bringing in refugees and immigrants and embracing all these other cultures. And that’s what I’m calling for.

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