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Could Obama 'pardon' all the Dreamers before he leaves office?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created by the Obama administration by executive order, meaning that it could be ended by executive order when the Trump administration moves in on Jan. 20. Considering Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, many young people who are now benefitting from the program are dealing with fear and uncertainty.

Obama's DACA program persuaded many thousands of DREAMers to openly list their names on government rolls in an effort to obtain legal status. Tragically, these brave youngsters now live in fear that they'll be the first to be rounded up.

Is there anything that could be done now to ensure that no one is deported just for being a DREAMer? Well, Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform as a surprise for the holidays, but that doesn't seem likely.

Three members of Congress recently suggested a novel way of President Obama to protect the approximately 750,000 DREAMers who trusted in the system he set up.

"We urge you to exercise your Constitutional authority to provide pardons to DREAMers both retroactively and prospectively," Luis Gutierrez, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Zoe Lofgren wrote in a letter to the President.

Noting that they had heard reports of DREAMers having taken their own lives rather than face the threat of deportation promised by the Trump administration, the lawmakers added that "Using your pardon authority, which is not subject to reversal, to protect these young people who relied on the program you implemented is quite literally a matter of life and death."

Could Obama use his constitutional authority to grant pardons and clemency to prevent DREAMers from being deported? It's difficult to say because the issue hasn't come up before the courts very often. The U.S. Constitution grants presidents the authority over both criminal and civil pardons, and most have granted a few controversial ones in the last weeks of the administration. For example, President Carter pardoned Vietnam draft dodgers who had fled to Canada.

The three lawmakers hope that that Obama could pardon all of the DREAMers -- or perhaps all registered DREAMers -- for having entered the country illegally. It's difficult to say whether that would be enough, however. An anonymous White House official opined that the pardoned DREAMers would still have to obtain legal status and that only Congress can confer that.

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