Trump to Congress: Help Dreamers, Secure Borders
President Trump and lawmakers from both parties did little Wednesday to clarify what ultimately becomes of the Obama-era exceptions that allowed nearly 800,000 undocumented migrants to work and go to school in the United States since 2012.
A day after terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as unlawful and announcing a six-month phase-out for existing beneficiaries, Trump said Wednesday he is optimistic Congress will act before March 5 to provide new statutory protections for so-called Dreamers.
The president did not clarify which provisions he would embrace among pending bills, leaving open whether he seeks a DACA-specific measure, promoted primarily by Democrats, businesses and Dreamers, or “comprehensive” immigration reform, including border security and aggressive enforcement, which many Republicans favor.
“I’d like to see something where we have good border security, and we have a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Trump told reporters as he flew to North Dakota to deliver a speech promoting tax reform.
The president said he rescinded DACA because he believed the program created by President Obama in 2012 was unlawful. By tossing the Dreamers’ dilemma to lawmakers to fix within the next six months, temporary work permits and the legal status of undocumented young people brought to the United States as children are in limbo.
The president’s decision to end DACA after eight months of saying he was sorely conflicted tossed yet another volatile political issue into a rollicking autumn for Republicans.
Trump surprised House and Senate GOP colleagues by cutting a deal with Democrats in the Oval Office Wednesday. The president overruled Republicans and agreed to bundle three separate issues together this week to achieve three months of running room on other legislation.
Whether House conservatives revolt when the Senate sends them the bundled version of a three-month accord with the minority party is unclear.
Trump agreed to bundle trillions of dollars for disaster assistance to hurricane victims (spending that adds to the deficit), together with a short-term budget package to keep the government running from Oct. 1 through mid-December, along with a 12-week hike in the nation’s borrowing limit, so Treasury can pay some U.S. obligations and avert default.
Before the end of the year, when lawmakers may be wrestling over a budget for fiscal 2018, the debt ceiling, a tax bill, immigration and potentially health care, Democrats could decide to exploit their leverage over must-pass legislation to extract a deal to help Dreamers and prevent their deportation.
On DACA, the president said, “I’d like to see a permanent deal, and I think it’s going to happen.” Trump did not indicate why he was optimistic the two parties would collaborate on immigration before a midterm election year, except to say he heard reassurances from members of Congress.
“I really believe that Congress is going to work very hard on the DACA agreement and come up with something,” he said.
Lawmakers who say they want to remedy the situation for Dreamers have urged the White House to define the scope of legislation Trump is prepared to sign.
White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short, traveling with the president Wednesday, said little to fill in the blanks, telling reporters the White House would at some point describe “principles in a broad sense,” which would include “border security.”
Advocates for DACA as well as the program’s opponents began legislative maneuvers Wednesday that laid down competing procedural markers in the earliest stages of well-worn clashes over illegal immigration.
Some members of Congress viewed Trump’s Tuesday tweet, in which he said he is prepared to “revisit” DACA if Congress fails to act by March 5, as the opposite of pressure aimed at Capitol Hill. If the president turned to Congress in March, after rescinding the executive underpinnings of DACA in September, his vow to “revisit” Dreamers’ plight only created more confusion.
“No mixed signal at all,” the president interjected Wednesday morning in the Oval Office. “I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary. I think they’re going to make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this,” he said, seated among the leaders of the House and Senate from both parties.
Asked if he would sign a measure to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, Trump demurred, saying any legal status defined in legislation would be “discussed later.”
A White House spokesman said Trump’s tweet about revisiting DACA meant he would publicly turn up the heat on Congress to legislate, not let lawmakers off the hook with executive intervention to replace DACA if they falter.
“The president will make the case more directly to the American people to help ensure that Congress does its job,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters.
She added another layer of challenge to the discussion by saying Trump wanted an “immigration reform” measure, which is much broader than an immediate remedy for existing DACA beneficiaries.
“Congress has six months to place a bill on the president’s desk and to have real and responsible immigration reform,” Walters said. “That’s what they need to do.”
For more than a decade, Congress has debated proposed immigration changes, weighed various bills, some with bipartisan backing, and failed to pass new law.
“The administration picked a ticking time bomb with the March 5 date,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy with the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
If Congress and the president do not resolve the status of Dreamers, more than 1,400 mostly young people could lose their jobs on March 6, and thousands more after that, he said.
Administration officials insist Dreamers will not be targeted for deportation because of expiring DACA status, but officials also say their status eventually reverts to what it was prior to the program’s protections: undocumented immigrants in violation of U.S. law, without permission to work or to study, and subject to expulsion.
Trump’s entry into the debate presents a wild card in the view of the Dreamers’ defenders, including many in the business community. On the one hand, his aggressive rhetoric about illegal immigration and national security during his presidential campaign helped him win the White House. But since then, the president described himself as conflicted about Dreamers, saying he wanted to show “heart.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the president’s termination of DACA on Tuesday, presented a harsh appraisal of the program’s beneficiaries, painting Dreamers as criminals and lawbreakers who nudge out American citizens for “hundreds and thousands” of jobs, as well as benefits.
How Congress arrives at a solution was unclear on Wednesday. “It’s too early at this point to say what it will be,” Jawetz told RealClearPolitics.
Having worked as a House Judiciary Committee aide on immigration issues a the start of the Obama years and through the creation of the DACA program, Jawetz said he became persuaded “there’s goodwill on both sides of the aisle” as lawmakers wrestled with challenges that presented no easy answers.
“What they need to do now, and have been unable to do, is take a vote,” he said, noting there are numerous pending legislative vehicles from which to work.
“I’m heartened by the enormous support we’re getting. … I’m cautiously optimistic,” he added.