Georgia conservatives fear a Trump betrayal on immigration

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Debbie Dooley switched away from President Donald Trump’s televised State of the Union address right after he proposed creating a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants illegally brought to America as children. Then the Lawrenceville resident vented on Twitter.

“AmnestyDon has lost my support,” tweeted Dooley, a Trump voter and one of the founders of the tea party movement. “He lied to voters in order to get elected. He has been co-opted by the folks we elected him to fight.”

Trump’s plan — which also calls for $25 billion for a southwest border wall, new limitations on legal immigration and other concessions in exchange for the new pathway to citizenship — has sparked outrage from some conservatives in Georgia who fear a betrayal. Many voted for Trump because of his campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration. And now they are worried.

Like Dooley, Ernest Housner, a Trump voter from Cumming, supports a more restrictive measure sponsored by congressional Republicans. That bill would instead allow those young immigrants, known as Dreamers, to apply for legal status in renewable three-year periods, and there would be no special pathway to green cards for them. Further, it would more quickly overhaul the legal immigration system and require employers to use a federal work authorization program called E-Verify. Housner called the White House on Wednesday to say he was disappointed with the president.

“Of course, I watched the State of the Union last night and I was really hoping that Trump would stick to what he said when he was running for president,” said Housner, the former coordinator of the Forsyth County Tea Party Patriots. “He lost a lot of respect.”

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Nancy Gallegos, a Gainesville resident who voted for Trump, sympathizes with Dreamers, saying their plight is the “collateral damage” of their parents’ decisions to bring them here without authorization. She supports allowing them to apply for legal status, but she also wants to see substantially more spending on the southwest border wall.

“You need to protect your house,” said Gallegos, a staffing company recruiter who became a naturalized U.S. citizen after immigrating to America from Venezuela. She also likes Trump’s ideas about revamping the legal immigration system. “I totally agree we need to emphasize the rules of this country. This country is the United States. This is not Mexico. This is not Venezuela. This is not Peru.”

Georgia’s leading Republican candidates for governor praised Trump’s plan last year to spike an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program grants Dreamers work permits and temporary protection from deportation.

Those same GOP candidates are now expressing hope Trump fulfills his campaign promises while being careful not to criticize a president who has sky-high approval ratings among Georgia GOP voters.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Republicans must use their control of Congress and the White House to end DACA and “fix our broken immigration system.”

“President Trump is a master negotiator and has fought hard to secure our borders and protect our country,” Kemp said. “No matter what deal is brokered, I remain firmly against amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle took a different tack. He said Congress should pursue a comprehensive immigration overhaul that begins with bolstering border security. The fate of the Dreamers, he added, should be hashed out as part of that package.

“I would support addressing the DACA question,” he said, “but only after we have made our borders secure and only as part of a comprehensive overhaul of our broken immigration system.”

Former state Sen. Hunter Hill said he trusts that Trump will broker a deal. But he said any compromise should also include provisions that restrict so-called “sanctuary cities,” boost border security, halt the visa lottery program and “end chain migration.”

Clay Tippins, a business executive and first-time candidate, said DACA is “unsustainable and ineffective” without changes, and he expressed confidence in Trump to “ensure that our borders remain secure and that our nation’s immigration laws are enforced.”

State Sen. Michael Williams, who has put his support for Trump at the center of his campaign, cast the battle over DACA as a federal one, saying, "I trust President Trump knows what he's doing and will negotiate the best deal." If elected, Williams added, he would implement the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program statewide to "focus on deporting every single illegal who commits a crime in Georgia."

Democrats reacted with sharp criticism to Trump’s plans. Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams called the failure to renew DACA a “cruel rejection” of the more than 20,000 so-called Dreamers who arrived in Georgia as children.

“Congress must uphold their promise to DACA recipients, and Georgia’s next governor must support policies that allow for their full participation in society,” Abrams said.

Her rival for the Democratic nomination, former state Rep. Stacey Evans, said lawmakers risk squandering vast opportunities for Georgia by scuttling the DACA program.

“The state,” she said, “can add more than 5,000 potential college graduates if Georgia’s DACA-eligible high school graduates enjoyed better access to Georgia’s colleges and universities — which could deliver approximately $9.4 million in new annual tax revenue for Georgia’s state and local governments.”

Sumbul Siddiqui is among 21,600 DACA recipients who have called Georgia home. A medical scribe and a graduate of Agnes Scott College, she wants a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants such as her but not as part of Trump’s plan. The president’s proposal, she said, could split up mixed-status families such as her own. Siddiqui’s parents lack legal status, a younger brother is a DACA recipient and two other siblings are U.S. citizens.

“I don’t understand what this means about protecting America when you are separating parents and children,” said Siddiqui, an immigrant of Pakistani descent who was brought to America when she was 4 years old. “It would affect me personally.”

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