President Trump is expected to phase out the Obama-era program that grants work permits to about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, but delay its end for six months to give Congress time to pass legislation to replace it, according to multiple people briefed on the president’s discussions.
Trump’s plan remains fluid and could change, however, and administration officials stressed Sunday evening that the president has not finalized his decision. The White House has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday.
Trump has been wrestling over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program since the start of his presidency, and he has been known to change his mind about difficult policy issues until the moment he makes public a decision.
Politico first reported Sunday evening that Trump had decided to end the DACA program.
Two people briefed on Trump’s deliberations and a third person with knowledge of the internal discussions said that the White House is preparing to slowly phase out the program so Congress could pass legislation for an alternative program to help the program’s recipients, known as “Dreamers.” All of these people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
Many questions remain about how the policy would be implemented, including how long after Trump’s announcement current DACA beneficiaries would have to renew their protected status.
Should Trump move forward with this decision, he would effectively be buying time and punting responsibility to Congress to determine the fate of the Dreamers. There is a consensus view among many of his top advisers that the DACA program, which President Barack Obama created by executive action, would not stand up in a court of law.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and recently departed chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon have advocated a hard-line immigration stance with the president, including ending DACA.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to end DACA immediately. But he has since voiced sympathy for the program’s beneficiaries, many of whom immigrated to the United States as young children and have lived here for most of their lives.
“We love the Dreamers,” Trump told reporters Friday in the Oval Office. “We think the Dreamers are terrific.”
Surrogates for Trump said Sunday that American workers would benefit from an end to the DACA program, which has let undocumented children work and study in the United States without fear of deportation, but congressional Republicans urged the White House to leave the program intact.
Trump “wants to do what’s fair to the American worker, what’s fair to people in this country who are competing for jobs and other benefits,” counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on “Fox & Friends.” She said the president’s decision should be viewed as part of an “entire economic and domestic agenda” that includes an end to sanctuary cities, increased border security and constructing a wall along the southern border.
“He says we have to keep people and poison out of our communities. People who are coming here illegally and competing for those jobs,” Conway said.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was “less concerned about the economic impact” of ending the DACA program because “we’ll make sure that we have plenty of workers in this economy. We want to put more people back to work.”
Neither Conway nor Mnuchin specified what Trump will say when he addresses the future of the DACA program Tuesday.
As a candidate, Trump promised to end the program, but he has never acted on that promise. Instead, he has several times expressed sympathy for the plight of DACA recipients — and eschewed signing draft executive orders presented to him that would end the program.
Congressional pushback to reports Trump may end the DACA program continued unabated through the weekend, as lawmakers implored the president to leave the program alone.
“It would be the right thing to do to go back on that promise,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of Trump’s DACA campaign pledge on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is one that he ought to ignore.”
Flake has long criticized Trump, but their relationship has deteriorated in recent weeks after the president endorsed his 2018 primary challenger Kelli Ward. On Sunday, Flake also voiced skepticism about the idea that Congress might barter with Trump to get him to leave the DACA program intact by funding his much-desired border wall. “If he’s talking about a solitary, brick-and-mortar, 2,000-mile edifice on the border, then no, nobody ought to support that,” Flake said.
Flake is not the only member of Congress attempting to stand in between the president and the DACA program. Those urging the president to let DACA survive include House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and conservative senators like Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who have implored Trump to give Congress a chance to address the program in law.
Tackling immigration is not easy for Congress, where many conservatives argue that more must be done to secure the border before addressing programs to streamline entry for immigrants or legalize the undocumented. Previous efforts to combine immigration and border enforcement initiatives have failed, even when Democrats had congressional majorities.
Still, the sympathetic cases of DACA recipients have inspired lawmakers from various corners of Congress to sponsor legislation to legalize their status. Their support raises the possibility that a handful of Republicans could join congressional Democrats to get a bill over the finish line.
But Conway suggested that even growing sympathy for DACA recipients — including Trump’s own sympathies — would not change his mind about ending the program.
“I do want to remind everyone that President Trump was able to take issues that were languishing in low single digits, if not an asterisk in the polls in terms of what’s most important to you — trade, illegal immigration — and he was able to expand them into an entire message of fairness,” Conway said.