RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Trump administration is expected to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program today. That's the Obama-era program that allows immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in this country. Several news outlets have reported that President Trump won't start enforcing the change to DACA for another six months, giving Congress an opportunity to find an alternate solution. This morning the president tweeted this message to Capitol Hill. Quote, "Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA."
Representative Jeff Denham is a Republican from California's Central Valley. He is one of 10 House Republicans who wrote a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging Congress to protect the so-called DREAMers. Congressman Denham is in our studios this morning. Thanks so much for coming in.
JEFF DENHAM: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So as noted, you are for maintaining the protections that DACA affords, but in doing that, you're clearly going against many of those in your party who think otherwise. How are you making the case to them that DACA should stay?
DENHAM: You know, this is a case that we've made for quite some time now. This is a bipartisan solution. I have the ENLIST Act, which has more coauthors than any other immigration bill. We have over 200 coauthors, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. I very strongly believe that these kids should have the opportunity to have a job, to be able to go to college and should be able to enlist into our military.
So I think that there's a bipartisan solution here. The real issue is, Congress has to do its job. This should've never been an executive order. This should've been something where both parties came together to resolve a very important issue for our country.
MARTIN: So as you mention, President Obama passed this through executive order. This wasn't done through Congress, and that has raised the ire of a lot of people, like yourself. He did that because he couldn't get Congress to act, and so...
DENHAM: ...Not exactly true.
MARTIN: How is Congress, a legislative body that, in this moment, is intractable - how can this Congress address this issue any more feasibly than they could before?
DENHAM: President Obama had a Republican House, a Republican Senate, had a Republican Congress for quite some time and chose not to do this by working with House Republicans or Democrats. That's why it was done on executive order. I think this is an opportunity for both sides of the aisle, for both houses to actually come together and resolve this.
We have bills in each house - the RAC Act - the Recognizing America's Children Act - the ENLIST Act, the BRIDGE Act in the Senate - both of them are getting bipartisan support. It's time for us to get this done and resolve it.
MARTIN: So what does that look like? You mention the ENLIST Act. I mean, this is a bill that you have sponsored. Is this the solution?
DENHAM: No, it's not the solution. It's a part of the solution. My bill is already in each of the House and Senate versions. My bill just basically deals with the military aspect of this. Obviously, we need to go much, much broader to those that want to go to college and those that want to get a job.
I mean, under the current DACA program today, not only have these kids passed background checks, but they are - 95 percent of them are in college or have jobs today. So there are a lot of accomplishments that've been made. We need to do this as Congress doing its job, and solidify this once and for all.
MARTIN: So do you think this piece of immigration reform can be teased out? I mean, can you address the DREAMers issue without creating an entire reform and overhauling the immigration system?
DENHAM: I think so. I mean, obviously, our immigration system is broken. We need to overhaul the entire thing. But this is certainly an opportunity to combine, you know, a DREAMer act with border security. I mean, this is something that should have bipartisan support. The president's already asking for border security. Why wouldn't we add a DREAMer aspect to that as well?
MARTIN: What do you mean? Marrying the idea - when you say border security, you're talking about the wall. What do you mean by that?
DENHAM: Yes, yes - which was bipartisan back when Senator Obama, Senator Schumer and Senator Clinton all voted for it. This used to be a very bipartisan thing before Trump - President Trump announced it. So I think it can be bipartisan once again. I think America wants its border secure, but we also want to make sure DREAMers, who were brought here to no fault of their own, have a place in our country and can continue to add to the greatness of America.
MARTIN: A recent NBC News SurveyMonkey poll found that two-thirds of Americans agree with you. They support DACA. Does your party risk a political backlash if these people start being deported?
DENHAM: I don't think we'll ever get to that point. I believe that, you know, the general consensus is that we're going to have six months to get this done. Congress should not need six months. This should be something that moves very quickly, that is very bipartisan.
MARTIN: What's at stake for you? One in 4 DREAMers - so-called DREAMers - are Californians.
DENHAM: Yeah, California certainly has a big DREAMer population. We have a big immigrant population, so this is something that's very important to us as a state. It's personal for me. It's something I've wanted to get done since I initially came to Congress.
MARTIN: Jeff Denham is a Republican congressman from California, sounding optimistic this morning about...
DENHAM: I am optimistic. We've got to get things done.
MARTIN: ...Possibility of moving on the DACA issue. He represents the 10th District in California. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
DENHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.