House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday that the 800,000 young immigrants who have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program can "rest easy" knowing that Congress will take action to allow them to stay in the United States.
Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke to reporters a day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that President Trump would rescind the DACA order in March, reversing action taken by his predecessor Barack Obama in 2012 after Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.
Ryan said Wednesday that Trump "made the right call" in rescinding DACA because Obama had "overstepped his constitutional bounds." But he added that he was "also encouraged by the fact that he gave us time to work out a consensus, to find a compromise" on the issue.
"Look, I think people should rest easy, and I think the president made the right call, and the president also gave us the time and space we're going to need to find where that compromise is," he said, referring to a March deadline set by Sessions.
Ryan sketched out a compromise that has been floated by numerous congressional Republicans — pairing relief for "dreamers," the colloquial name for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, with border security and other enforcement measures supported by conservatives.
He did not mention funding for a Mexican border wall — a Trump priority that is fiercely opposed by Democrats and could prove to be an obstacle to a bipartisan compromise.
"This is a dilemma that in large part stems from the fact that it is a symptom of a larger problem, and the larger problem is that we do not have control of our borders," Ryan said. "It is only reasonable and fitting that we also address the root cause of the problem, which is borders that are not sufficiently controlled, while we address this very real and very human problem that's right in front of us."
He added: "What we don't want to have happen is another DACA problem in 10 years from now. We want to make sure that we fix this issue for these kids, for these young people, and to address the root cause of the problem."
Trump offered support for a congressional fix Tuesday: "I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And, really, we have no choice. We have to be able to do something. And I think it's going to work out very well. And long term, it's going to be the right solution."
While many Republicans offered guarded support for a compromise this week, there is also a hard-line conservative base that remains inalterably opposed to any relief for illegal immigrants of any age.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called any bill that would legalize dreamers an "amnesty act" and questioned why GOP leaders would spend time on it.
"I don't think Congress needs to have this fight," he said Wednesday. "We have Obamacare to fix, and we also have tax reform to do, and now we're working against the promises of the president of the United States."
Immigration has been a hands-off issue for Republican leaders for more than three years, since then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was defeated in a primary by a hard-right challenger who attacked his efforts to find a compromise. Ryan had also been active in those efforts, working closely with key Democrats to negotiate a deal before Cantor's loss ended the possibility.
When Ryan became speaker in 2015, he faced skepticism from House conservatives at the time who were wary of his past support for comprehensive immigration legislation — an effort that might have given a larger group of illegal immigrants a path to permanent legal residency or even U.S. citizenship. Ryan assuaged those concerns in part by pledging not to bring immigration bills to the House floor unless they had the support of the majority of Republicans.
Ryan stood by that pledge Wednesday, though he put the onus on Trump for building support among Republicans.
"We will not be advancing legislation that does not have the support of President Trump, because we're going to work with the president on how to do this legislation," he said. "If we have legislation coming through here that is worked with and supported by the president, I'm very confident that our members will support that."