Cautious optimism on both sides as Congress grapples with DACA's future
A day after President Donald Trump ordered the cancellation of a program protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, House Speaker Paul Ryan said any legislation aimed at helping those people should also address border security.
"It's 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,” Ryan said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama instituted by executive order in 2012.
Under DACA, about 800,000 so-called Dreamers were able to obtain permits to work in the U.S. legally. Several Republican attorneys general had challenged the program, alleging that Obama’s unilateral imposition of it violated the Constitution.
Days after he publicly urged Trump not to revoke the policy, Ryan maintained Wednesday that the president did the right thing. A compromise to resolve the issue could potentially include funding for Trump’s border wall, increased border patrol staffing, or controls on legal immigration in exchange for protection of Dreamers.
Trump’s plan to unravel DACA includes a six-month delay, during which he hopes Congress makes the program permanent, according to his tweets Tuesday. In one, he suggested he would “revisit” the issue if Congress does not get it done.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., expressed optimism that Congress can reach an agreement before the deadline set by Trump expires.
“I do believe Congress can come to a solution on it,” he said Wednesday. “I landed yesterday around 3:00 in the afternoon here in D.C. and even in this last half a day, I’ve already seen more members talking about it and being willing to be supportive of legislation to fix this.”
Valadao echoed the president’s position that the problem is less with the policy than with the way Obama enacted it.
“It was something that literally any president with the stroke of a pen could get rid of and take those protections away,” he said. “So I think it’s very important that we do pass a bill, get it signed into law, so that these folks that are living under DACA have the security of knowing that the law is there to protect them.”
In a statement Tuesday, Obama recalled that he implemented the policy through executive orders only after Congress repeatedly failed to pass legislation on it.
Valadao claimed Trump’s decision to rescind DACA creates a “real opportunity” for Congress to properly make it law, pointing to the president’s tweets Tuesday urging lawmakers to address it within six months.
“I think it’s very important for us to make sure that it’s done the right way,” he said.
According to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Trump is right that fixing DACA is Congress' responsibility and it is only one of many aspects of the immigration system that need reform.
"I think this is a time Congress ought to step up and do its job," he said, insisting that six months is plenty of time to accomplish that.
Democrats have been critical of Trump’s decision—House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared it “a despicable act of political cowardice”—but they also see a window for action that would remove the legal ambiguity that has hung over Obama’s order.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., suggested Trump’s actions move DACA to the top of Congress’ to-do list.
“The president’s six-month window really makes it urgent that we address it,” he said, adding, “The sad part is we haven’t done it for years.”
Beyer noted that top business leaders have been critical of Trump for rescinding the program, which allows young adult immigrants to work and pay taxes without fear of deportation.
“Now the entire business community, the business roundtable, the national chamber, they know how critical it is to keep these 800,000 young people actively working in our economy,” he said.
Although legislation aimed at granting Dreamers legal status have faltered repeatedly in Congress, Beyer seemed confident this time will be different.
“I do once again think every Democrat and many good Republicans will be trying to make DACA the law of the land,” he said.
While Democrats are broadly supportive of a standalone bill to help Dreamers, their leadership has so far not embraced the kind of tradeoffs for stricter immigration controls that Ryan suggested.
"We've got to stop playing politics with these kids," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said at a press conference Wednesday.
At the same event, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.—who called Trump’s decision “heartless and brainless”—threatened to start latching a DACA fix to other unrelated bills if Republicans refuse to put it up for a vote.
"If a clean Dream Act does not come to the floor in September, we're prepared to attach it to other items this fall until it passes," he said.