Originally published by The Washington Post
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said Tuesday that President Trump is not expected to extend a March 5 deadline for when legal protection and work permits begin to expire for young immigrants known as “dreamers” — raising the stakes for lawmakers struggling to reach a solution.
“I doubt very much” Trump would extend the program, Kelly told reporters during an impromptu interview at the U.S. Capitol.
He told reporters that he was “not so sure this president has the authority to extend it” because the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants was not based on law.
Kelly’s comments come as lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to grant permanent legal protections to dreamers and resolve other aspects of the immigration system. Kelly also said he would recommend against Trump accepting a short-term extension of the program legislative patch.
“What makes them act is pressure,” Kelly said of Congress.
Trump announced the end of DACA in September, giving lawmakers until March 5 to come up with a permanent solution. But a federal court last month ordered the Department of Homeland Security to continue accepting applications for DACA, prompting some lawmakers to say that they would have more time to resolve the issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is appealing the court ruling, and unless higher courts rule on the legality of the program, DHS will be required to continue renewing DACA status for recipients.
Last month, Trump unveiled a four-part plan to deal with urgent immigration issues and used his State of the Union address to endorse a plan that would legalize the status of 1.8 million dreamers — more than the actual number of young immigrants currently protected by DACA.
Kelly called Trump’s endorsement of legalizing a larger pool of immigrants “stunning and no one expected it.”
“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” he said. The difference between [690,000] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”
Kelly said he couldn’t believe that lawmakers would vote against Trump’s immigration plan given how “generous” it is.
“If before the champions of DACA were members on one side of the aisle, I would say right now the champion of all people who are DACA is Donald Trump — but you would never write that.”
About 800,000 have applied for and received DACA protections since the program began in 2012. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has estimated that at least 1.3 million people are immediately eligible for the program.
mmigration reform advocates have said in the past that many people brought to the country illegally as children did not apply for DACA because they did not meet the age or educational requirements, couldn’t afford the application fees ranging from $400 to $500 or fear handing over personal information to the federal government.
With talks continuing across the Capitol, the White House rejected a new plan Monday from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) that would grant permanent legal status to dreamers and bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump tweeted Monday that the proposal is a “total waste of time” because it doesn’t immediately authorize spending the billions to build new barriers along the border.
The new legislation, which was also introduced in the House last month, orders DHS to craft a comprehensive U.S.-Mexico border strategy but stops short of authorizing the billions of dollars that Trump and conservative Republicans want for border security construction projects. The bill also does not address changes sought by Trump to curtail family-based legal migration — derided by conservatives as “chain migration” — and end a visa lottery system used by immigrants from countries that don’t benefit from other visa programs.
On Tuesday, Trump amplified Kelly’s comments, tweeting that “nearly 7 in 10 Americans support an immigration reform package that includes DACA, fully secures the border, ends chain migration & cancels the visa lottery. If D’s oppose this deal, they aren’t serious about DACA-they just want open borders.”
In a separate tweet, Trump said that “We need a 21st century MERIT-BASED immigration system” and added that current family-based legal immigration programs and the diversity visa lottery “are outdated programs that hurt our economic and national security.”
At the Capitol, Kelly reiterated the administration’s position that dreamers “are not a priority for deportation” presuming they avoid breaking the law.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said previously that her department would not target dreamers for deportation. But Nielsen said in an interview last month with CBS News that DHS will “enforce the law.”
With lawmakers deadlocked on how to proceed, the top negotiators for each party spoke out on the Senate floor Tuesday and accused the other side of inaction.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead Democratic negotiator on immigration, said that his party is “willing to support a broadly unpopular and partisan proposal — the wall — in exchange for a broadly popular and bipartisan proposal” that would legalize the status of dreamers. “But the president will not take yes for an answer.”
Minutes later, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) fired back, calling Trump’s plan “a reasonable framework” for the congressional debate.
“President Trump has offered a proposal. Our colleagues on the other side who don’t like the proposal have not offered a counter-offer that meet the four pillars” Trump asked for, Cornyn said.