New York Times
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis
February 26, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s sympathetic remarks about the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — “these incredible kids,” he has called them — were a surprising turn for a man who had vowed during the campaign to “immediately terminate” their protections from deportation.
But they are unlikely to be the last word. Mr. Trump has not ruled out ending the Obama-era program that shields the young immigrants, who have taken little comfort in his comments. And the president is already coming under intense pressure from the immigration hard-liners in his Republican base to keep his promise.
The problem that Mr. Trump faces as he worries aloud about how to handle the young immigrants, who were brought illegally to this country as small children, encapsulates the beating heart of the difficult choices confronting him. In theory, it is a question of laws and numbers, but in practice it is an emotional and often gut-wrenching matter of human lives affected and families at risk.
It also captures the rifts within the White House, where Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Stephen Miller, his policy director, are driving a get-tough immigration policy while Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, has counseled a gentler approach.
“To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids,” Mr. Trump said at a recent White House news conference. He said he would deal with the matter with “great heart,” but nodded to the political difficulty of doing so.
Mr. Trump added: “I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget. And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.”
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump’s inaction on the issue was rooted in sympathy for the Dreamers, coupled with a desire to create a careful plan for addressing their status. The administration, consumed with sweeping directives to increase deportations of other undocumented immigrants, does not have the capacity to manage the issue, he said.
“His thinking is: ‘We don’t have to deal with this right now. I want to hear more. I want to plan how we deal with this,’” Mr. Spicer said. “Let’s not start to create a problem that doesn’t exist right now. We’re not capable of handling it right now — we’ve got to deal with the first million.”
Inside the White House, the president’s advisers are concerned that he has repeatedly referred to Dreamers, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, in such sympathetic and politically loaded terms. “Our immigration folks are like, ‘Stop calling them kids,’” Mr. Spicer said.
The president is weighing a variety of strategies for dealing with the roughly 840,000 Dreamers, according to senior officials, including Mr. Priebus, and lawmakers of both parties in Congress have been trying to devise legislation to carve out a special status for them. For the time being, Mr. Trump’s administration is still issuing work permits to undocumented people under the program, leaving their protection intact even if their fate is in limbo.
The delay has outraged supporters of Mr. Trump’s who took his vows to rescind President Barack Obama’s program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, very seriously.
“He’s really starting to anger his base with this,” said Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA, a group that works to reduce immigration. “I’ve got people really angry and talking about ‘He’s double crossed us, he’s deceived us.’ You could say that the troops are restless, and I can’t blame them.”
Mr. Beck started a petition last month to demand that the president put an immediate end to the program, and opened a Twitter campaign encouraging people to send postings directly to Mr. Trump’s personal and official accounts, @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump, urging him to keep his pledge.
“His promise on DACA was pretty clear and unequivocal,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates strong immigration restrictions. That would be a “pretty basic thing” to renege on, he said, “right in the beginning of an administration.”
Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Trump on the matter during their private meeting at the White House two days after the election, and said days before leaving office that he would publicly object if his successor sought to target Dreamers for deportation.
Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, said that he did not mind a delay in dealing with the young immigrants, but that if Mr. Trump adopted Mr. Obama’s approach, “that would be most disappointing to me and a breach of an explicit campaign promise that helped Donald Trump win the primary and the campaign.”
Dreamers remain guarded in their views on Mr. Trump’s softer line.
“His comments have been more positive than many of us would have expected,” said Astrid Silva, 28, an immigrant organizer in Las Vegas. “But for a year and a half, he campaigned on deporting us on Day 1, and even now, he hasn’t taken that off the table.” Ms. Silva registered for a work permit in 2012, when Mr. Obama created the program, and received her third renewal last month.
Mr. Trump’s hesitation has created an opening for lawmakers who have long wished to address the issue legislatively. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, who cornered Mr. Trump on the Dreamers at an inaugural lunch in the Capitol last month, had been optimistic about a deal on the issue until the hard-line immigration directives were announced.
“President Trump several times now has consistently come forward with positive and conciliatory statements about these people,” Mr. Durbin said in an interview, adding that the president’s immigration directives had created “a much different atmosphere.”
“Saving Dreamers at the expense of families would be so painful,” Mr. Durbin added. “So we are in a holding pattern, and many Republicans are waiting for a signal from the White House.”
Mr. Trump has a number of options for addressing the program. He could rescind it, essentially invalidating the temporary work permits that have been issued since 2012. That could open hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to deportation under his new guidelines, which prioritize the removal of anyone who has entered the country illegally.
Another option would be to phase out the program by letting those who have the work permits, which must be renewed every two years, keep them until they expired and ceasing the issuing of any new ones. The result would plunge Dreamers back into an uncertain status.
The president could also pursue the matter through the courts. A second order that Mr. Obama issued in 2014 to expand eligibility for the program and give legal status to as many as five million parents of Dreamers was quickly blocked by a legal challenge by the State of Texas, and the Supreme Court announced last year that it had deadlocked on the case, 4 to 4. That case did not cover Mr. Obama’s initial directive, but it could be amended to apply to both programs, or a new one could be filed against DACA.
Mr. Durbin has teamed up with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, on legislation known as the Bridge Act. The bill would essentially replace Mr. Obama’s executive action with an expanded initiative that would allow at least 740,000 of those who had received reprieves and work permits to keep those benefits for three more years.
It has the support of Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans. So far, there has been little movement among other Republicans to support the bill, and many, especially members of the House, would accept it only if it were paired with strict border security provisions or were part of a large package that could include Mr. Trump’s plan for a wall along the Mexican border.
Mr. Flake has his own bill that would offer a three-year extension to those now covered by DACA, but it also would compel the Department of Homeland Security to deport within 90 days undocumented immigrants arrested or convicted in connection with serious crimes.
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