The political network of libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch is poised to back a bill protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Spokespeople for the Koch network confirmed to The Daily Beast that it will press Congress for a legislative fix to the recently rescinded Obama-era program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that shielded undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
The Kochs’ backing could provide a crucial boost to efforts to preserve DACA, which Trump announced this week he will phase out over the course of six months. Congress has scrambled to find a replacement for those legal protections that are set to be removed. And Trump himself signaled early support for the DREAM Act, which would, essentially, codify the DACA protections that Obama had imposed via executive action.
“The Seminar Network is committed to working with and encouraging lawmakers to come together to pass a durable solution into law,” said James Davis, a spokesman for that network, in a Wednesday email. “Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a hallmark of free and open societies.”
The bulk of the Koch network’s promotion of a DACA fix will take place through its entity that focuses on Latino issues, the Libre Initiative. Brian Faughnan, a Libre spokesman, said the group will engage with lawmakers in the hopes of securing permanent U.S. residency for DACA beneficiaries, commonly known as DREAMers.
Leading Libre’s legislative campaign will be Marilinda Garcia, the group’s national spokesperson and a former New Hampshire state legislator. Garcia is also registered to lobby Congress on behalf of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s issue advocacy arm.
“She (and we) have always made our views clear on immigration,” Faughnan said. “With the recent action on DACA/Dreamers, she’ll be encouraging lawmakers to act as expeditiously as possible on a bipartisan fix that allows Dreamers to remain here, achieve their potential, [and] help build a stronger nation.”
With its formidable political and policy operation, the Koch network could provide more political cover to Republican members of Congress as they consider a replacement to the DACA program. Koch network alumni are sprinkled throughout Trump’s inner circle, and include White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short and Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager who now advises a prominent independent political group supporting the president.
Though the Kochs have clashed with President Trump on some major issues—including his ban on immigration from six Muslim-majority nations—they retain significant influence among Hill Republicans, many of whom were elected with the support of Koch network organizations. The network mostly sat out the 2016 presidential race, but its various arms—which include not just political groups but policy advocacy organizations, think tanks, and more educational outfits—spent about $750 million in the runup to last year’s elections.
The Kochs are far from the only wealthy individuals backing a quick DACA fix. Prominent elements of the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the lobbying outfit founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, will also be pressing Congress to officially legalize DREAMers.
But elements of Trump’s base are expected to oppose efforts to grant, what they deem as “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants. Pro-Trump voices such as Breitbart News, the popular outlet run by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, are covering the legislative push and Trump’s apparent openness to a DACA deal with intense skepticism.
It is not yet clear what form a legislative DACA fix would take—though the outlines of a deal emerged in recent days, with Democrats agreeing to more border security measures so long as they did not involve a border wall. Daniel Garza, Libre’s executive director, told The Daily Beast over the weekend that he hoped the need for a DACA fix might spur additional changes to the U.S. immigration system, which he said have been desperately needed for years.
Garza lamented that DACA recipients are caught in the crossfire of that inevitable legislative fight, but “maybe, just maybe, in a twisted way, this is what we need to get something done on this issue.”