California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is warning his former colleagues in Washington that they’ll pay a political price if they fight legislation to give legal protection to DACA recipients.
Speaking to reporters before testifying at a Senate hearing, Becerra said those who stand in the way of such a measure now risk a backlash like the one that met Gov. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) after he supported the anti-illegal-immigration Prop. 187 in 1994.
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“I think some places are going to learn the lessons of Pete Wilson, unfortunately for them, the hard way,” Becerra said, arguing that demographics and politics across the country have changed in the same way they were changing in California two decades ago.
“We’re not going to deport these kids. We tipped, right? We reached the tipping point on those things,” the California AG and former House member said. “At the end of the day most people in this country, including Trump supporters, recognize you’re not going to punish a child who did everything the right way—the way you want your kids to do it—and send them off to some country they don’t recognize. I think we’ll get there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the president really wants to get there, as well.”
For the moment, though, Democrats cooperating with President Donald Trump on any issue seem vulnerable to attack from the left. Protesters derailed a press conference by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Monday, accusing her of selling out to Trump on immigration reform.
Asked about the protest, Becerra said the anger and fears of those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are understandable.
“Put yourself in the shoes of that DACA recipient. Those Dreamers are stressed. This is real….And so they need to be out there demanding,” the California official said.
However, Becerra also cautioned that legislation needs to be carefully calibrated, with a strong focus on addressing DACA and most other concerns taking a back seat.
“The urgent issue now is DACA,” he said. “The president has put these folks in limbo. In fact, at risk. At this stage, the most immediate concern given that Congress has a number of deadlines before the recess is to take care of DACA….Don’t imperil it by going overbroad or overloading and don’t be timid, just the way the Dreamers aren’t timid.”
While some on the left are cautioning against any legislation adding immigration enforcement funding, Becerra drew no red line against that and said California is still working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on issues like human trafficking and smuggling.
Asked to comment on Trump’s demand issued via Twitter that any immigration bill block “chain migration”—a phrase that refers to family members sponsored by immigrants who have become U.S. citizens—Becerra dismissed such messaging as political posturing even though insisting on ending family-based preferences in the immigration system could torpedo any legislation.
“I don’t rely on what Donald Trump says I rely on what he does. I didn’t file a lawsuit for Dreamers, didn’t file on sanctuary jurisdictions….based on words. It’s based on what he does, what his agencies do, that’s the way I treat it,” the AG said.
When a reporter noted that California’s lawsuits over Trump’s DACA wind-down and his so-called travel ban argue that those measures should be considered discriminatory because of Trump’s campaign-trail rhetoric about Mexicans and Muslims, Becerra backpedaled and said he won’t hesitate to use Trump’s language against him in litigation.
“In court, I certainly will use his words. That’s what you go off of in court, but we’re talking politics. If we were talking evidence and logic then we’d have had this done a long time ago,” said the AG, who was tapped for the job last December by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) after then-Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Becerra, who was in town to testify in favor of legislation expanding state and local prosecutors’ ability to target online sex trafficking of minors, rebuffed questions about his own political aspirations and said he’s having a great time in his new job.
“It’s a great place to get things done and it’s a great place to make a big difference, plus, I want to enjoy myself,” he said. “I’m content.”