President Trump's upcoming announcement on the fate of an Obama-era immigration program has sent Democrats, Republicans, and immigration activists on both sides of the debate scrambling to prepare for the fallout from what is sure to be a controversial decision no matter which way the president rules.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that Trump would unveil his decision on how to handle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Tuesday, when a coalition of conservative attorneys general had vowed to challenge DACA in court.
DACA allows children brought into the country illegally, known as "Dreamers," to apply for protections that shield them from deportation and grant them work permits that are valid for two years.
Although Trump is reportedly mulling an approach that would freeze new DACA applications while allowing Dreamers presently covered under the program to remain in the country until their work permits expire, the White House refused on Friday to give any indication of what Trump's ultimate decision would be.
Such a gradual removal of DACA's authority could give lawmakers time to hammer out a legislative solution that would give Dreamers permanent legal status. Previously, Trump administration officials have floated the possibility of using DACA as a bargaining chip in Congress to extract concessions from Democrats, such as funding for construction of the border wall.
A conservative Senate aide told the Washington Examiner that many Republicans want to see protections for Dreamers tied to security measures, but noted Democrats have not demonstrated a willingness to negotiate on DACA.
"There is zero interest in a DACA-only bill among conservatives," the aide said. "We would love to do something that found a humanitarian solution for the Dreamers paired with increased enforcement, but the Dems seem completely unwilling to even begin such talks."
Congressional Republicans urged Trump this week to preserve the program, which extends a temporary legal reprieve to roughly 800,000 people. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, were among the GOP lawmakers who urged Trump to press for a legislative solution to the problems posed by DACA rather than scrapping the program altogether, as he is expected to do.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called on Congress Friday to "take immediate action to protect" people covered by DACA.
A two-year phase-out of DACA that allows Dreamers to maintain their legal status until it naturally expires would establish a concrete deadline for Republicans and Democrats to arrive at a mutually acceptable deal.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said any such legislative agreement must include more than just funding for Trump's border wall in order to be successful.
"I think there's a good deal of appetite for some kind of deal because I don't see Congress approving a straight DACA amnesty," Krikorian told the Washington Examiner. "DACA is for a very sympathetic group of people, and the president himself shares the broad public support for giving some kind of legal status to those young people."
However, a bill that confers legal status to Dreamers must also include measures that address related legal immigration issues, such as those included in the RAISE Act, separate immigration legislation that Trump supports, Krikorian said. The RAISE Act limits family sponorship of future legal immigrants to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.
"We want to limit which additional people benefit from the amnesty," he said.
Those measures could include eliminating legal immigration rules that would allow Dreamers, once they receive amnesty, to bring certain family members into the country as well. Another measure could include an increase in E-Verify enforcement, which would help prevent undocumented immigrants from taking jobs illegally in the U.S.
Krikorian expressed uncertainty that Trump could convince Democrats to sign onto such policies.
"I think that the president is a good negotiator in real estate deals, but dealing with mobbed-up labor bosses and crooked building inspectors is a much more honest and sincere process than negotiating with [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer," he said. "I fear the president is going to get taken to the cleaners."
Trump had promised on the campaign trail to rescind DACA, which he described as unconstitutional.
But since taking office, Trump has acknowledged the need to use "special heart" when approaching the delicate issue of undocumented children.
"I always understood that with DACA, we need special heart," Trump told the Washington Examiner in April. "We have to understand the other side of that equation, and I do understand that side, and I am somebody with a lot of heart and you know, you've heard what I said. Just, relax and let's let it all play out. Because I think everyone's going to be happy in the end."