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Graham: If You Don't Back DREAM Act, 'I Don't Want You to Vote for Me'

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged President Trump to support a revived DREAM Act and said at the “snap of his fingers” Trump could convince the Republican Party to unite behind providing a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.

Graham, who won re-election in 2014, also told South Carolina residents who oppose the DREAM Act not to vote for him.

“I have come to believe that comprehensive immigration reform, whether done in piecemeal fashion or done comprehensively, is absolutely essential for our national security. It's absolutely essential for our economic viability and I want to stop the third wave [of illegal immigration] and never do this again. We have got to have a practical solution to the 11 million,” Graham said at a press conference today alongside Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Both were members of the bipartisan Gang of Eight who drafted the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“I am hoping we can find a pathway forward with President Trump. Wouldn't it be ironic if the man who started his campaign talking about illegal immigration in a very tough way would be the man who started the country on the path of solving the problem?” Graham added. “This problem will not fix itself.”

The South Carolina senator said he agrees with the Trump administration’s emphasis on securing the border and focus on deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the U.S., but he wants to see Trump work to fix the nation’s “broken” immigration system. Graham said that Trump is the only leader who could persuade the GOP to support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“Here's what changed. You have a president who, if he said tomorrow the border was secured, most people would believe him on my side. I could put alligators on the border and I'm not getting there,” Graham said, adding that the Gang of Eight “literally militarized the border, but I don't have the power he does to tell the Republican base that we have achieved border security.”

“What has changed? You have a president who could in a snap of his fingers get the Republican Party united more than Bush could – persuade people who feel threatened by illegal immigrants that they're going to take their jobs and commit crimes against their family and persuade them that this is a fair thing to do unlike President Obama was able to do. What has changed? A man in the White House who could take the people who object the most and with a coherent, from-the-heart speech change everything,” he said.

Graham and Durbin have reintroduced the DREAM Act for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and said the “moment of reckoning” has arrived for the GOP as the Trump administration decides if it should defend Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action in court.

Graham believes “most Republicans have zero problem” granting a pathway to citizenship for students who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

“To the people who object to this, I don't want you to vote for me because I cannot serve you well. I just don't see the upside of telling these kids they have to go back and live in the shadows or send them back to a country they have no idea about the country. If you send them back to their native country, some of them have never been there as anything other than a baby,” he said.

“So I just think most Americans would support President Trump if we could work out a plan to deal with these kids and secure the border. I think most Republicans would. So what have I done? I've stopped letting 30 percent of the people who are mad about immigration determine how I behave. To those who feel like you should deport these kids, boy, I couldn't disagree with you more,” he added.

Durbin said he has continued to introduce the DREAM Act over the years for “two basic reasons.”

“First, we don't believe that young people should be held responsible for the errors or the illegal actions of their parents. Number two, we believe that those who were brought to the United States as children, have grown up in this country, have no criminal record, who are prepared to serve this country in a variety of ways, should be given that chance to make America a better nation,” he said.

“We need the DREAM Act now more than ever because of the uncertainties these young people face all across America, not just with the DREAM Act but the DACA program itself, an executive order of President Obama.”

Graham described why he’s enthusiastic about supporting the DREAM Act of 2017.

“I'm excited about giving you a chance to live the rest of your life in America. I'm excited about taking this burden off your back. I am. I embrace you. I want you to succeed. Many of you will go into the military and some of you may die. Many of you will create jobs,” he said. “Start businesses. Do big things. Most of you will do the small things well.”

“So to President Trump, you're going to have to make a decision. The campaign is over. To the Republican Party, who are we? What do we believe? The moment of reckoning is coming. When they write the history of these times, I’m going to be with these kids,” he added.

The former 2016 presidential candidate pointed out that he’s “still standing” in the Senate after supporting citizenship for undocumented immigrants as a Republican.

“I am from South Carolina. I have been doing this for well over a decade and I am still standing. I convinced the people in my state that I will stop as best I can a third wave of illegal immigration. I'll secure your border and I'll make sure that illegal immigrant hiring becomes less likely because we're going to put people in jail when they hire illegal immigrants and we'll have an economic-based immigration system in the out years,” he said.

“All I ask of you is to allow me to work with people like Senator Durbin to find a way to deal with 11 million people who came here mostly because the rest of us looked the other way. How do you get 11 million illegal immigrants in your country? You pretty much look the other way.”