Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Friday that she believes Congress will reinstate the Obama-era protections for people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, known as “dreamers.”

“I believe Congress needs to act quickly,” said Collins, who was appearing at the “Eggs and Issues” breakfast at York County Community College.

Former President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that gave an estimated 800,000 dreamers protection from deportation and work permits in a program that required a renewal process every two years. Immigration advocates argue that the United States should allow the dreamers to stay because, although they arrived in the United States illegally with their parents or other relatives, they were minors when they arrived.

The Trump administration this week announced that it was reversing Obama’s order and ending the program in six months, but invited Congress to pass a law to reinstate protections for DACA recipients.

“My heart goes out to these young people who have known no other country than America,” Collins said.

Collins pointed out that Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism after he died in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, came to the United States as an undocumented toddler. The USS Rafael Peralta, a destroyer, was built at Bath Iron Works and commissioned in July.

“Why would we want to deport someone like Rafael Peralta?” Collins asked in a media question-and-answer session after the breakfast.

Collins said the dreamers should have a “path to citizenship as long as they have been good citizens of this country.” She is opposed to versions of a bill that would permit “Dreamers” to stay even if they have three misdemeanors, saying that was an indication they would continue criminal activity.

The Trump administration’s decision has touched off controversy and protests across the country, including in Portland on Friday night.

Collins agrees with Trump that Obama overreached his authority by issuing DACA as an executive order, but believes that Congress should pass a law allowing the dreamers to stay. Before Obama’s executive order, efforts to approve similar legislation, called the DREAM Act, failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in December 2010.

Collins voted to maintain the filibuster that sank the DREAM Act, citing concerns that it allowed some undocumented young people with criminal records to stay in the United States.

According to an official White House blog from 2010, those with serious criminal records would have been barred from applying for DREAM Act protection. The 2012 executive order also prohibits those with significant criminal records from receiving benefits.

Maine’s other congressional representatives – independent Sen. Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District – released statements this week saying they would support legislation protecting undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.

During the Friday breakfast, Collins also discussed Congress’s failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Collins was one of three Republicans, along with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Arizona Sen. John McCain, to break party ranks and vote against a Republican bill that would have repealed the ACA.

Collins sits on the Health, Labor, Pensions and Education committee, which is discussing ways to shore up the ACA’s individual markets by mandating that the Trump administration pay cost-sharing subsidies to help low-income people afford premiums, and also to boost a reinsurance program to stabilize markets and keep premiums affordable. The Trump administration has threatened to stop paying the cost-sharing reductions.

Collins said the committee process can be “messy,” but is better than the secret meetings Republican leaders held to craft their ACA replacement plans. Attempts to repeal the ACA, which failed in a dramatic Senate vote in the early morning hours of July 27, were hashed out behind closed doors.

“Not a single bill we were considering had a single hearing to evaluate the consequences,” Collins said.

Collins said an analysis of Republican bills to repeal the ACA showed that millions would have lost insurance. Rural hospitals would have been in danger of closing, and premiums, especially for those ages 50-64, would have skyrocketed.

She said rural Maine would have been even more vulnerable.

“We would have seen the rural infrastructure for health care collapsing,” Collins said.

About 20 million Americans have insurance through the ACA, including 80,000 Mainers. Many of them are self-employed or part-time workers.

Under the ACA, the national uninsured rate has declined from about 17 percent in 2013 to 10.9 percent in 2016, according to Gallup polling.

Joe Lawlor can be reached at 791-6376 or at:

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