WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to end an Obama-era program that shielded young people from deportation, but he will likely let the immigrants known as Dreamers stay in the United States until their work permits run out, according to multiple people familiar with the policy negotiation.
That plan would allow Trump to fulfill a campaign promise to end one of Barack Obama’s signature initiatives while also giving the president a way to keep the pledge he made after Inauguration Day to treat the Dreamers with “great heart,” said sources on both sides of the issue who are involved in the discussions.
An announcement could come as soon as Friday, just days before a deadline imposed by 10 states that threatened to sue the U.S. government if it did not stop protecting people brought into the country illegally as children.
Advocacy groups that want to preserve the program are urging the White House to ask those states — led by hurricane-ravaged Texas — to postpone their Tuesday deadline. A delay would give those groups more time to negotiate, and it could give Trump the space to avoid making a major policy announcement while his administration is eager to remain focused on hurricane recovery efforts.
But the president is under intense pressure to move quickly to end the program — called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or, more commonly, DACA — from groups that supported his candidacy because of his pro-deportation immigration position and his promise to end this particular program on his first day in office.
“This is something that he has absolutely turned his back on the base on,” said Chris Chmielenski, NumbersUSA’s director of content and activism. “I can’t say it enough. He promised to do it and he has not done it yet.”
The White House certainly could ignore the deadline imposed by the states threatening to sue, and instead leave the issue to the courts or Congress. But his advisors are urging Trump to take the reins.
“He’s been advised that it’s in his political interest for him to be the one to make the decision to terminate the program because he’ll get the credit,” said a source who is familiar with the conversations inside the White House. “And if it’s going to end anyway, why not take the credit for it?”
Trump, the most unpredictable and unconventional U.S. leader in modern times, could still change his mind but three people knowledgeable with the situation say the president is expected to act before the Tuesday deadline.
The idea of allowing the roughly 800,000 immigrants now protected by the program to stay for as long as two years under current work permits is supported even by many of the groups that want DACA scrapped. So long as no new permits would be given and none would be renewed, those groups see the reprieve for current DACA enrollees as necessary.
“It seems to be the most practical way to do it,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that opposes protecting Dreamers and is in talks with the administration.
That window could give Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are sympathetic to these young, undocumented immigrants some time to come up with a plan before most of the recipients lose their status, said a congressional source familiar with the GOP strategy.
After Trump was briefed on the issue last week by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has said repeatedly that he believes the program is unconstitutional, the president was prepared to end DACA. But two Republicans involved in the issue said Trump had second thoughts and postponed announcing a decision as he focused on the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“I think he’s genuinely conflicted on this and trying to figure it out,” one of the Republicans said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday that DACA is still “under review.”
“There are a lot of components that need to be looked at, and once a decision is made, we will certainly let you guys know,” she said.
“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” Trump said in February. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids, in many cases not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly.”
The administration has continued to allow Dreamers to apply for the program and has even renewed their permits — at nearly the rate of the Obama administration — which has angered some of his own supporters.
Americans for Legal Immigration PAC dropped its endorsement of Trump in May because he did not end DACA. ‘There is no room for compromise,” the group’s president, William Gheen, said this week.
Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue have been bombarding the White House and lawmakers with calls and letters as the deadline looms.
“We will not be pushed back into the shadows,” said Cristina Jiménez, executive director of the United We Dream. “We’ll continue to rally and march to show Trump and Congress that they are here to stay.”
The 10 states threatening to sue, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argue Obama overstepped his executive powers in granting the vast special protections. Other states include Kansas, South Carolina and Idaho. Another 20 states, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urged Trump to refuse that request.
In an interview on June 30, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said that he would be open to extending the deadline past Sept. 5 if it gave Congress more time to come up with a legislative fix, saying he supported the intent of DACA but not the mechanism by which the program was put in place.
But officials at the governor’s office in Idaho and the attorney general’s office in South Carolina said late Thursday they have not been contacted about delaying their lawsuit.
The decision follows an internal battle at the White House on DACA. Some of Trump’s top aides have been pushing him to protect Dreamers and use the issue as a bargaining chip for a larger immigration deal but Democrats stand steadfast in their refusal to negotiate. Some Trump aides express similar compassion for the Dreamers while others fear opposing the popular policy could lead to backlash with voters, business executives and donors.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 22, 2017
Emma Dumain and Brian Murphy contributed.