President Trump's forthcoming decision on the fate of so-called Dreamers – unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before adulthood – could have far-reaching consequences not only for his quest for immigration reform and an impenetrable border wall.
As the Washington Examiner reported last week, Trump is under mounting pressure to terminate or phase out the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program that protects nearly 800,000 undocumented youth before a coalition of conservative state attorneys general sue his administration for what they see as unlawful amnesty.
To avoid a messy legal challenge, he must make a decision by next Tuesday – the day Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he will amend an existing federal court case against the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program to include a legal challenge to DACA.
Congress, which did not create the program and could only stop Trump from canceling it by passing replacement legislation, is set to return to Washington the same day. Top Capitol Hill aides who anticipate Trump will end DACA said that doing so in the middle of spending negotiations would almost guarantee the denial of his request for border wall funding.
"It would really shake up the place if he discontinues DACA, since that's something that most people thought he had settled on," a senior House GOP aide told the Washington Examiner. "I think things would get really toxic really quickly in the immigration space, which would ultimately bleed into any debate over the wall."
House Republicans passed a bill last month containing $1.6 billion in funding for the updates to the border, including the construction of a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico. Trump, who insisted Monday that he still plans to force Mexico to finance the wall, has twice threatened a government shutdown over border security funding.
A Democratic Senate aide said Trump "would be dropping a bomb" into his effort to "inveigh and bully Congress into supporting a wall" if he moves to kill DACA.
"And that's to say nothing of the catastrophic impact to human life ending DACA would have," the aide added.
A White House official confirmed that Trump is weighing several options on what to do with DACA, one of which would be to set a date before the end of the year when the government would stop granting renewals and work permits to young illegal immigrants. That would prevent DACA enrollees from immediately becoming subject for removal and shift the pressure to Congress, where lawmakers would be forced to devise legislation that legalizes Dreamers and contains other provisions to get it past the president's desk.
"The way to do it would be to say we're going to stop doing renewals as of Dec. 31 or whenever so that the announcement puts in motion the end of DACA but doesn't change anything right away," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies. "One of the main audiences for that pitch would be the more moderate Republicans, as well as a few Democrats."
"It's the kind of thing that could give the more moderate Republicans both political cover and be seen as a perfectly plausible deal [where] Democrats get something, the administration gets something and nobody gets everything they want," Krikorian told the Washington Examiner.
One such compromise could be a bipartisan immigration package that offers a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and establishes a merit-based system for legal immigration, similar to the RAISE Act introduced by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia earlier this month, and late embraced by Trump.
A March editorial by National Review articulated this approach, suggesting "there is no reason why these so-called Dreamers can't be accommodated in a process that respects our system of government."
The conservative publication endorsed a legislative solution that combines the RAISE Act and a nationwide mandate to use E-Verify, an identification system that helps businesses determine the eligibility of potential employees to work in the U.S., with "permanent, lawful amnesty for Dreamers."
It's a compromise White House officials are already pushing for, according to a source close to the president, who said Trump's daughter Ivanka and chief-of-staff John Kelly are leading the campaign inside the West Wing, though Ivanka had previously encouraged her father to preserve DACA. McClatchy first reported the effort last week.
For his part, Trump has softened his rhetoric toward undocumented youth since taking office, a signal that his firm opposition to citizenship status for unauthorized immigrants may not apply to the younger crowd, even as he prepares to construct a wall that would prevent more immigrants from illegally entering the U.S. as children.
"To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids," the president said at a press conference just weeks after his inauguration. "I love these kids… and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do."