WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s expected decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but leave some time to save it, punts the popular program that protects young undocumented immigrants to Congress — but passage of a legislative solution remains a steep uphill climb.
Trump is expected to announce Tuesday that he will end the Obama-era program, but will offer a six-month delay to give Congress time to come up with a fix, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Those sources have cautioned this was the president’s thinking as of Sunday night and could shift ahead of his scheduled Tuesday announcement.
Such a plan would put the issue on Congress’ shoulders amid a busy fall, squeezing Republican and Democratic leadership to decide what their bases could swallow to find a compromise that would keep the nearly 800,000 people who benefit from the program from having their lives upended.
Trump signaled Congress’ central role in a Tuesday morning tweet.
As the administration has held meetings for weeks about how to respond to an ultimatum from 10 state attorneys general about the future of DACA, members of Congress have publicly and privately called on the administration to preserve the program long enough for a legislative fix.
But President Barack Obama announced the executive action — which protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and allows them the ability to work and study — as a response to years of congressional inaction.
Now, they will have to take ownership of averting an end to the popular program that has the widespread support of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and the business and education communities.
“Now the hot potato’s back in their lap,” said one senior lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be candid. “Some Republicans would welcome the opportunity to show they’re pro-Latino and do something on this, but on the other hand some would be just as happy to say, ‘Hell no, we’re not doing this because it’s amnesty.’
“And so we’ve got (House Speaker Paul) Ryan in the hot seat figuring out where’s his base and where does he go.”
Ryan on Friday told a Wisconsin radio station that he wants Trump to keep DACA in place so Congress can work on a legislative solution.
While he did not support Obama’s creation of the program, he has been sympathetic to the recipients benefited by it and said he has been having conversations about figuring out a path forward for them.
His office and the other leadership offices in Congress were all quiet on Monday, holding off comment until the president makes a formal announcement.
A Democratic leadership aide in the Senate said that working with Republicans on a fix “will be a high priority” if Trump announces DACA’s end on Tuesday.
But conversations will happen about next steps when members return from August recess that day.
There has been a steady stream of Republicans supporting a legislative version of DACA since Friday and Ryan’s comments, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
Republicans have to balance roughly two-thirds of their membership for whom anything supporting undocumented immigrants is a tough vote with the rest, who could potentially benefit politically from such a vote.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, said Monday that he could support a guest worker program for the population, calling it “more than half a loaf” and “the minimum” toward helping DACA recipients.
“I think if we do it creatively and smart, we would even have the votes for that,” Sessions said.
“The legislative and executive branch should put aside passivity and partisanship and finally modernize our immigration laws,” Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said in a statement.
“It is right for there to be consequences for those who intentionally entered this country illegally. However, we as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, an immigration hawk who has written legislation that would cut legal immigration, told the Washington Examiner that he could support a fix if paired with his legislation and other conservative wish list items.
But that approach doesn’t even have enough votes among Republicans and would be a nonstarter as an option.