By Seung Min Kim
January 24, 2017
Donald Trump promised during the campaign that he’d “immediately” kill Barack Obama’s unilateral actions to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Now, just four days into the new administration, immigration hardliners are demanding that the new president follow through. And they’re increasingly frustrated at the shift in tone from top White House officials signaling a more compassionate approach for so-called Dreamers.
Influential groups advocating for more immigration restrictions have already launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Trump to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era directive that allowed Dreamers to obtain work permits and protection from deportation. On Tuesday, NumbersUSA urged its 2 million-plus members, as well as 6 million followers on Facebook, to tweet at Trump urging him to rescind DACA, and even the Trump-friendly news outlet Breitbart ripped the administration for its DACA inaction.
That irritation from Trump’s base is quickly spreading to conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Asked whether he was disappointed Trump hadn’t yet ended DACA, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) barely let a reporter finish the question before he responded: “Yes.”
“It was front and center in his campaign,” Brooks said in an interview Tuesday. “Donald Trump got a lot of votes — probably got the Republican nomination in large part — because he said he was going to be aggressive in defending our borders. One of the low-lying fruits is repealing, by executive order, the amnesty executive orders of Barack Obama, and he hasn’t done it yet.”
For the hard-liners, rescinding the DACA program should be the easiest of Trump’s immigration promises to fulfill: a simple memo ordering federal officials to stop accepting DACA applications that have steadily arrived since Obama first announced the initiative in 2012.
But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is still taking DACA requests, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday. That means the agency is greenlighting an average of 140 initial applications and 690 renewals, according to the most recent publicly available data.
Advocates pushing for more restrictions on immigration see each approval as an affront to Trump’s core campaign pledge.
“This was one promise I thought he would keep,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "There was no wiggle room. ‘I will immediately cancel.’ That’s a pretty declarative sentence.”
Krikorian has fired off a flurry of tweets and written an op-ed for the conservative National Review wondering whether Trump plans to revoke DACA, which was established through a Department of Homeland Security memorandum by then-Secretary Janet Napolitano. Brooks said he is discussing the matter with Peter White, his former legislative counsel who now works in the White House’s policy shop, and Krikorian has also reached out to White House officials.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) warned Tuesday that Trump "absolutely" faces a backlash from his political base if he backtracks from his pledge to rescind DACA and a related Obama executive action that expanded those benefits to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. That directive never launched after being blocked by the Supreme Court last June.
“The quicker he takes the action, the less painful it’s going to be,” King said. “There was a Hispanic young lady in my district and I said I would consider adopting her, I like her so much. [But] I love the rule of law more. And we can’t have the rule of law if we let our hearts rule.”
But after Trump's vows to crack down on illegal immigration during the campaign, his tone has softened when it comes to the more than 740,000 immigrants brought here illegally as children who have DACA permits.
He was sympathetic toward Dreamers in an interview with Time magazine after being chosen its Person of the Year. And after Sen. Dick Durbin thanked Trump at Friday’s inaugural lunch for his warm comments about Dreamers, Trump told the Illinois Democrat that he would find a way to accommodate the DACA recipients that was “fair” to them, Durbin recounted Tuesday.
“I am personally just confident knowing President Trump that he is a compassionate individual,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of the administration’s closest allies. On revoking DACA, “I don’t see that [at the] top of his agenda.”
Trump's top deputies have relayed a similar message in recent days.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus indicated on “Fox News Sunday” this week that Trump had no immediate plans to use his executive powers to unravel DACA. And press secretary Sean Spicer echoed that sentiment during his first briefings with the White House press corps.
"His priority is, first and foremost, people who pose a threat to people in our country, to criminals, frankly," Spicer said Tuesday. On DACA, "I think he’s continuing to make sure his Cabinet-level team starts to organize and create a plan to move forward with respect to that issue and that’s where we are right now."
Those statements, King said, give “real pause to rule-of-law conservatives.” Others question whether the remarks — a clear departure from the philosophy of the hard right that fueled Trump’s rise — are signaling a broader conflict between the power centers dominated by Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News.
“It is possible that there is a strategic reason that we would applaud for this initial delay,” NumbersUSA President Roy Beck wrote to his members on Tuesday. “It is also possible factions within the new administration are already disagreeing about immigration policy.”
Jan Ting, a former immigration official under President George H.W. Bush, said he was “disappointed” the Trump administration hadn’t taken action to rescind DACA.
“I know there are people in the administration who understand these issues. There are many voices inside the administration. There are hints of a power struggle going on now,” Ting said. “They have a political problem. They recognize it. They don’t want to have bad press of having all these Dreamers thrown to the wolves.”
There are signs that the pressure campaign — both public and private — to ensure Dreamers can work and stay in the United States is influencing the mercurial Trump.
In their first private meeting after his election, Obama repeatedly impressed upon Trump the value of the Dreamers who’ve benefited from DACA. It was one reason why their 90-minute meeting ran so long, according to Durbin, who said Obama had relayed that account to him and other Democrats.
“I’ve been encouraged because they have been making an exception for Dreamers with DACA,” Durbin, who has made rescuing Dreamers his top priority since Trump’s surprise election, said Tuesday. “Until we get the proper legislation passed, I’m going to be worried. But these statements make me feel better.”
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