WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump gave a series of conflicting statements on Thursday about how he hopes to deal with young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, muddying the waters over whether he will support their bid to gain eventual citizenship and whether he will demand a border wall in exchange.
Trump’s comments, made both to reporters and on Twitter, came after leading Democrats in Congress said they had reached an informal deal with the president on legislation to help so-called Dreamers, or undocumented young people who entered the country as children.
Last week, Trump put the fates of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers up in the air by rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted two-year work permits and deportation relief.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement with Trump to tie measures to grant Dreamers legal status to border security measures, but not to a wall. They said Trump had made clear he would continue to demand a wall, and that they had told him they would oppose it.
Trump denied that a deal had been made, although he initially did not dispute key details of what the Democrats had said. But later, he said Dreamers’ fates would be tied to the construction of a border wall, even if it’s not part of legislation that addresses Dreamers.
“We have to be sure the wall isn’t obstructed, because without the wall, I wouldn’t do anything. … It doesn’t have to be here but they can’t obstruct the wall if it’s in a budget or anything else,” Trump told reporters in Florida, according to a pool report.
He added that he would “only do it if we get extreme security, not only surveillance but everything that goes with surveillance,” Trump said. “If there’s not a wall, we’re doing nothing.”
The president also created more confusion by suggesting that he might not support allowing Dreamers to eventually gain citizenship. That would destroy any hope of a deal with Democrats, who want Trump to support the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to eventually become citizens.
“We’re not looking at citizenship,” he said. “We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”
That doesn’t necessarily preclude eventually supporting Dream Act-style measures, however. The bill would not grant citizenship immediately; it would allow Dreamers to gain legal status that would make them eligible for eventual citizenship ― so there’s potential that Trump could eventually back such measures and still claim they were not the “amnesty” he opposes.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) similarly insisted that there was no deal on Dreamers. He said on Thursday that Trump told him there was “no agreement” made with Democrats.
“It was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation,” Ryan said.
Ryan laid out his own conditions on Dreamers: “You cannot fix DACA without fixing the root cause of our problem. We do not have control of our borders. So we need border security and enforcement as part of any agreement.”
Earlier on Thursday, Trump said in a series of tweets that any deal on Dreamers would be contingent on “massive border security,” although he didn’t specify that it had to include a wall. He added that the wall is “already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls” and would proceed.
Trump also told reporters outside the White House on Thursday that “the wall will come later.” Asked if he favors amnesty, the president replied that “the word is DACA,” referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The president also seemed to throw cold water on concerns that he wanted to deport beneficiaries of the DACA program.
Pelosi and Schumer confirmed in their statement on Thursday that no final deal had been put in place.
But they added, “While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it.”
Many of Trump’s staunchest supporters, including Fox News Host Sean Hannity and conservative commentator Ann Coulter, quickly lashed out at reports that president seemed to be softening his stance on immigration.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later tweeted that “excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” but a spokesman for Schumer shot back that, while the wall wasn’t dead yet, it wasn’t part of this deal specifically.
This story has been updated to include Trump’s additional comments to reporters, Ryan’s comments, and a statement from Pelosi and Schumer.