Attorney General Loretta Lynch sat down with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for an interview on her eponymous cable news show Tuesday night, and the subject of a possible blanket pardon for beneficiaries of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — colloquially known as "DREAMers."
Liberals and other immigration activists have called on Obama to pardon the more than 700,000 program registrants for any past immigration violations as a means of possibly avoiding deportation during President-elect Donald Trump's administration. While the president's pardon power is generally considered to be exceptionally broad, and there is no doubt that Obama could pardon the DREAMers for any past immigration violations, it is less clear whether such a pardon could suffice to confer legal status on any of them; after all, even though they could not be prosecuted for the crime of entering the country illegally if they were pardoned, they still would not have valid documentation or legal status in this country without some further act.
Lynch seemed to rule out the possibility that Obama would offer a blanket pardon to beneficiaries of the program, noting that "there's no process set up to pardon a group of people en masse." She also noted, "The issue of whether or not anyone gets a pardon is really actually an individualized decision that the president makes person by person."
Lynch also indicated that the Obama administration acknowledges that the decision of whether to continue the DACA program rests with the incoming Trump administration, saying, "I think that people are going to have to look to make sure that their policy interests are really heard by the incoming administration ... that the same policy interests that prevailed to provide the whole status in the first place are carried forward as well. ... I think that they're going to have to look to this new administration, try to find people there with whom to speak, to raise those same issues that convinced the Obama administration to support them."
Since is election victory, Trump has signaled a possible willingness to let at least some DREAMers stay in the country. In an interview last week, Trump suggested that he might be open to allowing DREAMers who had obeyed the law since registering in the program to stay in the country, or at least some portion of them.
For Obama's part, he has used his pardon power during the course of his presidency to either pardon or commute the sentences of a number of non-violent drug offenders who were previously incarcerated. In total, Obama has commuted more than 700 sentences during his term, more than the previous seven presidents combined. However, any contemplated pardon of over 700,000 individuals would be unprecedented, and Obama has not indicated that he is even contemplating such an action for DREAMers.