Wyden: Trump comment throws 'dreamers' protection into question
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is optimistic about resolving aid for children's health and wildfire disasters — but less so about shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation — as a deadline nears to renew federal spending authority.
"We've got a chance to do bipartisan work on two things that are really important to Oregon," the Oregon Democrat said Sunday (Jan. 14) at a town hall meeting in Clackamas.
One is a longer-term extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program, under which federal and state governments provide services to 9 million children who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance. It expired Sept. 30 but is on a short-term extension.
Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, the committee chairman, have an agreement that tried to resolve a partisan fight in the House.
The other is an agreement, cosponsored by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, to draw wildfire funding from natural disaster funds, instead of forcing the Forest Service to draw from its other programs.
"Right now the system discriminates against fire prevention," Wyden said.
Federal spending authority now is scheduled to end Friday, Jan. 19, although the original deadline has been extended twice already.
But Wyden says President Donald Trump's comments Thursday throw into question the potential attachment of immigration legislation, aside from Trump's reported use of a vulgarity to describe some countries as potential sources of immigrants.
"Until the middle of last week, I thought we were right on the cusp of having an agreement on immigration again," Wyden said at the meeting, which about 100 people attended at Camp Withycombe. "The comments that were made (by Trump) clearly chipped away at that trust."
Trump's about-face from his stance of two days earlier may have doomed any chance for an agreement on the fate of 800,000 immigrants — 11,000 in Oregon — brought to the United States illegally as children.
Trump has ordered an end to a 2012 program, known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, that shields "dreamers" from deportation and enables them to get two-year work permits. A federal judge has suspended that order.
"But it's not going to be dead to me," Wyden said
"We've got to get this right. This is an issue of fixing a system of immigration that doesn't work for anybody."
Wyden said he prefers the broader legislation that the Senate passed but the House shelved in 2013, and was based on a 2007 proposal worked out by Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The 2007 proposal, which because of Republican opposition died in the Senate, would have give legal status and a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. But they would have had to pay fines of $2,000 and back taxes, and demonstrate proficiency in English.
Wyden's town hall was his fourth of 2018 — he held a record 80 meetings around Oregon in 2017 — and his 865th since he was elected to the Senate 22 years ago this month.
Later in the meeting, George Bickford of Clackamas, a 95-year-old Navy veteran, said he was sympathetic to the United States offering a temporary haven for some people.
"But when they get here, we also need to send them home," Bickford said.
"They need to go home because they are not becoming American citizens the way we want to see them as American citizens."
Both of Wyden's parents fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and Peter Wyden taught himself English, but Ron Wyden said the Army initially rejected his father for Army service in World War II based on poor physical condition.
Peter Wyden, based on his proficiency in German, was finally enrolled in the Army's psychological warfare division in 1944 as the Western Allies invaded Nazi-held Europe. He helped write anti-Nazi propaganda.
Of the current immigrants, Wyden said, "A lot of these people were brought to this country when they were a few months old. They have done nothing wrong. A lot of them have perfect grades, they are working two jobs, they are sending money home to families.
"A lot of them have told me that what they want to do is be able to stay and serve in the military, in our police and as first responders."
"We ought to do something good for the United States that makes common sense."
Wyden and Bickford met amicably after the 90-minute meeting.