Anytime now, President Trump could announce he's decided to end his predecessor's deportation protections for nearly 800,000 young adults technically in the country illegally.
Or he could announce he's decided to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Or he could say nothing and run smack into a Tuesday deadline given to him by Republican attorneys general in Texas and nine other states, who have threatened to sue the Trump administration for inappropriately using executive power to protect illegal immigrants, just like they did with President Barack Obama.
Trump may be undecided, but we know what three prominent Republicans want him to do: Keep the program in place.
“I don’t think he should do that,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in an interview Friday with a Janesville, Wis., radio station, when asked if Trump should rescind DACA.
“I've urged the president not to rescind DACA,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Friday.
Here's Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.),who is up for reelection in 2018 in an immigrant-heavy state:
Congress needs to take immediate action to protect #DACA kids.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) September 1, 2017
To reiterate: Three Republicans — who have celebrated how many Obama-era regulations Congress has undone this year? — just publicly and forcefully asked Trump to keep in place a program that has come to symbolize for the right the epitome of liberal executive overreach.
Yes, that's a total 180 on where they stood on the program when Obama was in power.
Their argument for keeping DACA is the same argument they used to oppose it in the first place: Congress, not the president, should be in charge of immigration policy. House Republicans literally sued Obama for expanding DACA to the children's parents. (Last year, a 4-4 deadlocked Supreme Court effectively put that expansion on hold.)
Their secondary argument is where things gets politically interesting: Getting rid of the program now would be just plain mean.
“These are people who are in limbo,” Ryan said. “These are kids who know no other country; these are kids brought here by their parents, who have no other home . and I think we need to give people peace of mind.”
Hatch said in his statement: “Like the president, I've long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws. But we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here. And that solution must come from Congress.”
Basically, these Republicans are trying to tell Trump that he's stuck with DACA until Congress passes an immigration reform bill.
It's possible they've have calculated that the political backlash to leaving nearly 800,000 young adults at risk of deportation would hurt Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections more than it would help. It's possible they genuinely think those young adults shouldn't be deported. Either way, it looks very possible that these Republicans would support an immigration bill that provides some kind of relief to those immigrants, who are also known as “dreamers.”
Left unsaid by these members of Congress is that an immigration bill is nowhere near the top of their agenda. Congress returns Tuesday from its summer break with a massive to-do list to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling. They'd like to get started on tax revisions, and maybe infrastructure reform. Oh, and Obamacare is still in place. Basically, if Trump keeps DACA in place, it would probably remain so for the foreseeable future.
That Trump has gotten this close to a deadline without a decision underscores the political bind he's in. Getting tough on illegal immigrants was the pillar of his winning presidential campaign. At one point, he teased his supporters with the notion of a deportation force to round up the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Breitbart News, the hard-right website run by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, supports an immediate DACA reversal. No surprise there. But there is a wrinkle: The site’s argument against DACA, as laid out Friday, is rooted in the position that “Obama decided to act on his own, abusing the powers of prosecutorial discretion.”
Yet Breitbart’s recent coverage does attach some merit to the policy itself and suggests that “Congress can pass a law enabling [childhood arrivals] to stay.”
Trump himself has promised to “show great heart” to dreamers. The Washington Post's David Nakamura reports that Trump is torn by conflicting advice from senior aides: If you end the deportation protections, you give your base reason to celebrate. But you're not winning any friends, and you're also taking away the lives many dreamers have built to go to school and/or get higher-paying jobs.
We know what some prominent members of the Republican Party want him to decide.
Callum Borchers contributed to this report.