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'No, I'm not a racist,' Trump says as administration is forced to renew DACA permits

'No, I'm not a racist,' Trump says as administration is forced to renew DACA permits
DACA supporter Michele Modglin, left, waits outside with counter-demonstrators at Sen. Diane Feinstein's L.A. offices to show support for "Dreamers." (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Trump administration, under court order, said it would resume taking applications to renew temporary protections from deportation for hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" who came to the country illegally as children, as the standoff intensified between the president and Congress over the program's future.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Saturday evening that it will accept renewal applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It will not accept applications from people who've not previously received permits.

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The agency was forced to act after a federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday temporarily blocked the administration's plan to end the DACA program, which was started by President Obama.

The decision — and continued furor over reports that President Trump questioned why the country has to accept immigrants from certain "shithole" countries — adds to doubts whether he and Congress can agree this week on a bill to fund large parts of the government before current funding expires Friday.

Democrats and some Republicans insist the money bill must include language protecting Dreamers from deportation.

Trump has said for months that he wants a DACA compromise, but on Sunday he said on Twitter: "DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military."

Sunday night, before dinner with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump repeated that criticism of Democrats. He also denied accusations of racism triggered by his use of the vulgar word to describe countries in Africa and his remark that he would rather see the U.S. get more immigrants from Norway.

​​​​​​"No, I'm not a racist. I'm the least racist person you will ever interview," he told reporters.

Asked whether he thought a government shutdown would take place, Trump said he was unsure.

"I don't know if there is going to be a shutdown," he said. "There shouldn't be because if there is our military gets hurt very badly. We cannot let our military be hurt."

Most military operations would not be affected by a shutdown because they are considered essential to protect life or property. In past shutdowns, however, military pay was suspended, although soldiers were paid retroactively when the stalemate ended.

​​California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, who brought one of the lawsuits against the administration on DACA, disputed Trump's assertion about Democrats' goals and urged his party not to accept any deals that add "bad stuff" related to border security.

Among other things, Trump wants money for a southern border wall.

"I will tell my Democratic friends the following: DACA is actually now alive and the Homeland Security Department is now accepting renewal applications, so it's nowhere near dead," Becerra said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I would hope they would not agree to any bad deals on immigration, taking really bad stuff that has nothing to do with helping our borders in order to get a DACA deal," he said, adding, "That DACA deal should stand on its own."

While Trump has assailed the judge's order on Twitter, his administration has not yet appealed the decision but is expected to do so.

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Immigration advocates urged DACA beneficiaries to seek renewals quickly.

"The Trump administration stated that it plans to 'vigorously' challenge the district court's decision. This means that the window of time available for sending in your DACA renewal is uncertain," the National Immigration Law Center said in a release over social media, urging those eligible "to apply immediately."

About 800,000 young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children have been allowed to live, work and go to school legally in the U.S. under the DACA program, and to serve in the military. Nearly a third of beneficiaries are estimated to live in California.

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said in September the administration would wind down the program as of March 5. The administration ended renewals for two-year permits in October. An estimated 144 people daily lose their deportation relief.

Tuesday's order from U.S. District Judge William Alsup directed the administration to resume accepting renewal applications until all claims raised by the state of California and several other plaintiffs could be fully heard in court.

On Friday, he said pro-DACA plaintiffs in the several lawsuits he is handling can proceed with additional claims that the administration's order to end the program stemmed from "racial animus towards Mexicans and Latinos," as reflected in Trump's remarks during the 2016 campaign.

That second ruling came amid the furor over Trump's remarks in a bipartisan meeting on Thursday at the White House in which he questioned why the United States should have to accept immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador or the "shithole" countries of Africa.

On Sunday, two Republican senators denied for the first time that Trump had used the word "shithole," as other senators said he had.

Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, two of seven lawmakers in the meeting, on Friday had issued a statement saying they did "not recall" Trump using the term. Both now dispute the account of the only Democrat in the meeting, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, that Trump definitely made the remark. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) implicitly affirmed Durbin's account. At the meeting, Durbin and Graham had outlined their compromise immigration idea, which reportedly provoked Trump's comment.

"I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was," Cotton said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program.

Cotton went so far as to suggest that Durbin has been untruthful before.

On ABC's "This Week," Perdue told host George Stephanopoulos, "I'm telling you he did not use that word, George, and I'm telling you it is a gross misrepresentation."

Speaking on the same show after Perdue's denial, Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who wasn't at the White House meeting but spoke immediately after to Durbin and Graham, gave an opposing account.

"I was in a meeting directly afterwards where those who had presented to the president our proposal spoke about the meeting, and they said those words were used, before those words went public," he said.

The White House has not explicitly denied the reports. Trump said on Twitter last week that his words were "tough, but this was not the language used."

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said people shouldn't draw conclusions that Trump is racist.

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"It's unfair then to sort of all of a sudden paint him, 'Oh well, he's a racist,' when I know for a fact that he cares very deeply about the people in Haiti, because he helped finance a trip where we were able to get vision back for 200 people in Haiti," said Paul, an ophthalmologist.

For all the debate, lawmakers in both parties are frustrated by the controversy Trump repeatedly has sparked as they head into a week under threat of a government shutdown.

Congress will continue wrangling over the Dreamers because Republicans, though they control the House and Senate, need Democrats' votes to pass the government-spending bill given the number of Republicans who reflexively oppose any spending measures.

Roused by Trump's statements, more Democrats are saying they will not back a spending bill without protection for Dreamers.

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

UPDATES:

5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with comments by Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

12:30 p.m. This story has been updated with more details and comments about the White House meeting in which Trump is reported to have used an anti-immigration slur.

This story was first published at 7:30 a.m.

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