The Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program next year could have a broad effect on Democratic efforts to retake control of the House in 2018, and nowhere more so than in California, where more than a fourth of the estimated 800,000 recipients, often called Dreamers, are thought to live.
To secure the 24 seats they need, Democrats are specifically targeting nine of the Golden State’s 14 Republican members of Congress, several of whom represent districts with large minority populations. Stories of the 200,000 or so Californians affected by this decision will likely be a recurring theme of campaigns for the next year.
Now that the president is putting the issue on Congress’ agenda, the vulnerable Republicans will be squarely in the center of the debate.
Nearly all of them have opposed DACA, which delayed deportation for hundreds of thousands of Californians in the country illegally. Just two of the GOP lawmakers with districts that could flip in the midterms publicly tried to persuade the president to leave DACA in place.
On Aug. 24, Reps. Jeff Denham of Turlock and David Valadao of Hanford joined four Republicans who represent heavily Latino districts in other states in a letter to urge Trump to keep the deportation protections until Congress can craft a solution. Valadao’s district is more than 75% Latino, and Denham’s is nearly 45% Latino, according to the 2015 census estimates.
“When you talk about Dreamers, kids who were brought here through no fault of their own, already graduated, sat in a classroom next to our kids and graduated, it is a different conversation than the rest of the immigration debate,” Denham recently told a group of local Dreamers.
Republicans have framed ending DACA as a return to the rule of law, but that rationale ignores how this has become an increasingly personal issue for people across the country who have watched hundreds of thousands of emboldened young immigrants come out of the shadows.
Valadao and Denham have said previously they don’t think President Obama should have created the program in the first place, but they’ve also broken with their party to continue pushing for immigration legislation when GOP leadership said it was time to move on. Denham and Valadao are the only California Republicans to co-sponsor a legislative fix proposed by Republicans that would allow many Dreamers to stay. As late as Friday when early reports of Trump’s decision surfaced, they were urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to let Congress come up with a solution.
On Tuesday, Valadao reiterated that Congress needs to act before the program ends in March.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure those who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own are not unjustly punished,” he said in a statement.
Denham has repeatedly pushed a bill to allow Dreamers to earn citizenship through military service.
Those actions, and any possible fix that comes in the next six months, could insulate Valadao and Denham from attacks Democrats surely will launch following Trump’s announcement. The focus on DACA also might renew attention to their reelection races in the Central Valley.
The political fallout for other California Republicans — especially those representing districts with rapidly shifting demographics — remains to be seen.
On Tuesday, several of the Orange County Republicans in tough races treaded a soft line in their public statements, talking about Congress coming together for a solution or detailing what Dreamers contribute to the community. Several said Dreamers shouldn’t be punished for being brought to the United States without their consent. Still, they avoided talk of a pathway to citizenship and didn’t say they’d sign on to specific legislation.
“America is the only home most of these young people have ever known and it is unjust to punish them for the actions of their parents,” Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine said in a statement that began with a dig at Obama for creating the program. “Congress should work to ensure their residency so that they can continue to contribute to our community and strengthen our nation.”
Republicans including Rep. Devin Nunes, whose Central Valley district is 50% Latino, and Rep. Ed Royce, whose Orange County district is a third Latino and a third Asian, will be forced to talk about the issue with just over 14 months remaining until they face voters.
When Obama created the program through executive order in 2012, many Republicans argued he had overstepped his authority when he bypassed Congress.
On Tuesday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach said the former president created a “legal headache and public heartache” by acting alone. Rohrabacher’s predominantly white district hasn’t experienced the same dramatic demographic shifts as those of his colleagues.
“However much we may sympathize with the hundreds of thousands of these children, many of whom have reached adulthood and have become ‘Americanized,’ we in Congress must work to prevent such cynical loopholes from being created again by executive fiat,” he said in a statement.
The more than 200,000 estimated California recipients have started businesses, attended college and joined the economy full time. Many come from families of mixed legal status, meaning some of them can vote.
Democrats’ campaign arm already has been running campaign ads about Dreamers in districts represented by Valadao, Denham and Rep. Steve Knight, The Hill newspaper reported. And it is probably just the beginning.
In the coming weeks and months, expect Democrats to try to pigeonhole Republicans on how the program is crafted in Congress, and how they vote if it gets to that point.
Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter
Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics
3:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from lawmakers following the Trump administration’s announcement.
This article was originally published at 8:15 a.m.