WASHINGTON ― Members of Congress promised on Tuesday to work on legislative solutions to protect young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, after President Donald Trump followed through on a campaign promise to put them back at risk of deportation.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday morning that the Trump administration is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed nearly 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” to get two-year work permits and reprieve from deportation. When their permits expire, DACA recipients will now be unable to work legally and could be detained and deported under Trump’s efforts to expel more undocumented immigrants.
The administration’s directive gives Congress six months to reach a deal to address the status of Dreamers. But so far, Republicans have offered vague proposals or prior legislative options that don’t have a clear shot at passing.
Calling DACA a “clear abuse of executive authority,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that “it is my hope” Congress “will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”
“The president’s announcement does not revoke permits immediately, and it is important that those affected have clarity on how this interim period will be carried out. At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the only country they know,” Ryan said.
But other than a few who have signed on to bills with Democrats that would offer legal status to Dreamers, most Republicans have obstructed immigration bills for years, and their vague statements of support for Dreamers don’t mean they’ll actually push for legislation that stands a chance of passing.
And even if they do, it’s not clear that Trump, for all his calls for Congress to act, would even sign a bill to protect Dreamers without extreme conditions such as slashing legal immigration. The urgency to act is there, but so are the difficult politics of immigration that have led to past failures on bills to provide legal status to Dreamers.
Ahead of the announcement, Trump tweeted that Congress should “get ready to do your job.”
Later Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders placed the onus on Congress to find “a permanent solution done through the legislative process,” providing few details on what kind of bill Trump would want to sign into law.
She did, however, level a threat against lawmakers who can’t get the job done.
“If Congress doesn’t want to do the job they were elected to do, maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it,” she told reporters at Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday evening that he would revisit the issue if Congress failed to act on DACA.
Many Republicans have voted in the past to end DACA ― likely an easier vote under former President Barack Obama, who created the program and would not sign into law any bill to terminate the protections. Most of them also opposed previous efforts to provide reprieve to Dreamers, such as the Dream Act, a bill first introduced 16 years ago that would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to gain legal status and eventual citizenship.
Republicans have multiple options if they want to sign on to current legislation to protect Dreamers. There is a 2017 iteration of the Dream Act in both chambers; the House bill has two Republican sponsors and the Senate bill has three Republican sponsors.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that he plans to re-double his efforts on the Dream Act, criticizing Trump’s announcement as “the wrong approach to immigration policy.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday called on Ryan to “bring the Dream Act to the floor for a vote without delay.”
GOP members have also created what they are calling a more conservative version of the Dream Act. It would provide a path to citizenship to Dreamers with some restrictions, such as eligibility for those who entered the country before they were 16 years old, versus the current cutoff of 18.
In the House, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduced the Recognizing America’s Children, or RAC, Act with support from 18 fellow Republicans. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that he is planning a similar bill in the Senate.
Republicans may try to tie legislation to help Dreamers to other measures, such as funding for Trump’s border wall and increasing other deportation efforts. While Democrats have supported measures coupling legal status for undocumented immigrants and enforcement in the past, they have said they would not allow Dreamers to be used as a bargaining chip.
On Tuesday, Sanders would not say whether Trump wants funding for the wall included in a bill addressing DACA recipients. She also would not say whether he would sign a “standalone” bill, without any other conditions.
Yet she reiterated that Congress should pursue “comprehensive” legislation that is not “a one-piece fix” — again providing few details on what that would entail, placing the ball squarely in Congress’ court.
This article was updated with comments from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.