President Donald Trump is under mounting pressure from members of his own party not to end an Obama-era program that grants work permits to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children — a group often referred to as Dreamers.
As an unofficial Tuesday deadline approaches, Trump and his staff have received a series of calls from GOP officials warning that any effort to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program could be politically damaging. And there’s an effort to encourage Republican lawmakers to publicly raise concerns about how killing the program could affect the nearly 800,000 young people registered under the program, according to sources familiar with the internal debate.
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Trump told reporters mid-day Friday that his decision on DACA would come soon. “Sometime today or over the weekend, we’ll have a decision,” Trump said. “We’ll issue it sometime over the weekend. Maybe this afternoon.” He then said his announcement at the “latest will be Monday.”
Asked whether Dreamers should be worried, Trump said, “We love the Dreamers. We love everybody.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clarified Friday afternoon that Trump and his aides would be working throughout the weekend on the issue. She said that an announcement would be made on Tuesday, contradicting Trump’s earlier statements.
“The president’s priorities on immigration are to create a system that encourages legal immigration and benefits our economy and American workers,” Sanders said. “The president’s been very clear, he loves people, and he wants to make sure that this decision is done correctly, and so that’s what he’s doing now is finalizing that part.”
She added, “I think the decision itself is weighing on him, certainly.”
The DACA program, which was put in place by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to apply for two-year work permits and shields them from deportation.
While Trump vowed to kill the program during the presidential campaign, he has publicly wavered in recent months, expressing sympathy for those who could be uprooted if DACA is eliminated.
“The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids, I love kids,” Trump said in February. “I have kids and grandkids, and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough.”
He has also pledged to “deal with DACA with heart.”
Top White House aides have been debating the future of DACA behind the scenes for months, and the fight reached a fever pitch this week. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and policy aide Stephen Miller are the most vocal advocates of killing the program, and they’ve both made the case that it will be difficult to defend in court. That legal argument has resonated with the Trump, sources familiar with the debate said, with the president positing it’s better to phase out the program now than to keep it and lose in court.
But multiple people told POLITICO early Friday that Trump had not yet made a final decision, even though he is leaning toward phasing out the program and allowing existing Dreamers to finish out their existing work permits.
Though Trump is largely convinced that he should end the program, he continues to raise concerns privately about the possible political blowback, according to a person familiar with the discussion. But he also sees the decision as a way to show his conservative critics that he isn’t beholden to the so-called “New York Democrats in the White House,” the person said.
Texas and nine other states have threatened to sue the Trump administration over DACA if the president doesn’t rescind the measure by Tuesday. While many in the Trump administration see Tuesday as an unofficial deadline to act — and while Trump himself has pledged to announce a decision by this weekend — the president could opt to further delay a decision.
However, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced Friday that his state would not challenge DACA in court, lowering the total number of states preparing to sue over the program to nine.
“At this time, our Office has decided not to challenge DACA in the litigation, because we believe there is a better approach,” Slatery wrote in a letter to the state’s senators, calling on them to take legislative action.
Meanwhile, powerful lawmakers on Friday publicly called on Trump to maintain the program until Congress can address the program in a broader way.
“I don’t think he should do that. I believe that this is something Congress has to fix,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Janesville, Wisconsin’s WCLO radio station.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the Senate who helped introduce the original DREAM Act in 2001, called Trump on Thursday to urge the president not to rescind DACA, following numerous leaks to the press that Trump was preparing to do so, a Hatch aide said.
“Congress needs to take immediate action to protect #DACA kids,” Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted.
Other lawmakers are also applying pressure on Trump. Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, said Thursday he’ll try to force a vote on a bill that would extend protections for the Dreamers. Under the DREAM Act, young undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military for at least two years.
Ryan said Friday that Obama did not have the legislative authority to adopt the policy. “You can’t as an executive write law out of thin air, and so that’s very, very clear and we’ve made that very clear,” he said.
“Having said all that, there are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” the speaker said. “And so, I really do believe there needs to be a legislative solution, that’s one that we’re working on.”
Ryan added that Congress wants to give people “peace of mind” on the issue.
“I’ve had plenty of conversations with the White House about this issue,” the House speaker said. “And I think the president as well has mentioned that he wants to have a humane solution to this problem. I think that’s something that we in Congress are working on and need to deliver on.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.