Former DHS secretaries Chertoff, Napolitano and Johnson warn Congress over ‘dreamers’ deadline

A trio of bipartisan former Homeland Security secretaries is warning Congress that time is quickly running out for a legislative solution to protect nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” from possible deportation.

President Trump has set a March 5 deadline for Congress to act before the bulk of work permits provided under an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) begin to expire. The Trump administration announced the termination of the program in September, calling it unconstitutional because President Barack Obama established the program through executive authority to shield immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Now, Michael Chertoff, who headed the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who served under Obama, are warning lawmakers that they must strike a deal this month or risk running out of time. Even if Congress were to act this month, they cautioned, it would mean a massive undertaking for DHS to be able to launch a new administrative program to accommodate dreamers who are eligible to seek permanent legal status.

“The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large-scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away,” the former secretaries wrote in a two-page letter Wednesday.

The letter comes as White House officials travel to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional leaders to continue negotiations over the fate of the DACA program and an impasse over the federal budget. Lawmakers face a Jan. 19 deadline to pass a spending resolution to keep the government open, and some are suggesting that a DACA fix should be included. But it’s not clear what conditions Trump, who has said a deal on the dreamers is predicated on building a border wall and curbing legal immigration, is demanding to support such an agreement.

By David nakamura for THE WASHINGTON POST
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