Leading Democrats say they struck a deal with President Trump Wednesday night to pass legislation to protect the about 800,000 DACA recipients who could face deportation when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is scheduled to end in March.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also said they would work on legislation with the president to fund security on the U.S. border with Mexico that excludes Trump’s longtime promise of a wall between the countries — though the White House disputed the recounting of that portion of the meeting.
There were few details in the short joint announcement from Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi.
“‘We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.’”
They added that they “urged the President to make permanent” federal government subsidies under the Affordable Care Act,” and those discussions will continue.”
The White House, for its part, called the dinner meeting “constructive,” but didn’t claim any breakthroughs. A White House official said they discussed multiple topics, including “tax reform, border security, DACA, infrastructure and trade,” and it was “a positive step toward the President’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also denied that Trump had agreed to exclude the building of a border wall from any legislation.
Schumer’s communications director Matt House responded that Trump “made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the DACA program would be ending in March 2018 unless Congress took action to protect those affected. The program, implemented by an executive action from President Obama in 2012, temporarily protected young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation if they met certain requirements. The program also let them apply for work permits, but did not give them official legal immigration status.
DACA recipients are often called “DREAMers” after a proposed but never passed bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
As NPR reported last week, Sanders said Trump wants action to make the program permanent, but only as part of a “comprehensive” immigration overhaul that would include ending illegal immigration, using a “merit based” immigration system, and preventing people from overstaying visas.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona congratulated the president “for pursuing agreement that will protect #Dreamers from deportation.” The Republican senator is particularly vulnerable in the 2018 elections, as NPR’s Jessica Taylor noted Wednesday.
But conservative Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has a history of making anti-immigrant statements, responded to the news with a tweet calling a potential deal “Unbelievable!” and adding that the “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”
Right-wing news site Breitbart, with former White House adviser Steve Bannon back at the helm, called the president “Amnesty Don” in response.
The announcement came a week after Democrats said they reached a deal with Trump on providing hurricane relief, temporarily raising the debt ceiling and funding the government — a deal that upset Republican leadership.
The prospect of Congress reaching an agreement on legislation to help DACA recpients, however, is far from certain.
The DREAM Act has languished in Congress since it was originally introduced in 2001. Over the past 16 years, lawmakers have floated different versions of the bill. Each would grant permanent legal status to young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally, as long as they meet certain requirements.
Republicans want broader immigration policy legislation, including tougher border security measures, to be part of any type of DACA protection. Bennett says the “most likely path seems to be for Democrats to attach it to the must-pass fiscal legislation when it comes up again by early December.”