Congressional reaction was swift, if lopsided, to President Trump’s decision to phase out the Dreamer program.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan became one of just a handful of Republicans to join Democrats in calling for a quick legislative fix to protect 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children but will lose protections next year — unless Congress acts.
Ryan’s hope that Congress could pass a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program appeared tentative at best, given an already challenging legislative agenda and few other leading Republicans willing to step up for those affected by Trump’s decision Tuesday to end the program next March.
“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” said Ryan (R-Wis.).
Congress has shown it is increasingly unable to handle big legislative issues, and immigration has been among the most contentious despite strong support for DACA recipients from corporate executives at Apple, GM and Starbucks, religious leaders and the public.
Congress has tried, and failed, for more than a decade to enact immigration reforms, including a sweeping overhaul that passed the Senate with bipartisan support in 2013 — only to die in the House when Republicans there ignored it.
Democrats pledged Tuesday to try to help the Dreamers who could face deportation under Trump’s action. Dreamers applied for protection from deportation by providing the federal government with their names, addresses and other information, and officials insisted they would not be penalized for doing so.
Democrats want to pass the so-called Dream Act, a failed 2010 bill that would allow the young immigrants to stay in the United States if they were working, in school or the military, or other measures being floated that would protect the Dreamers.
“The human & economic toll of rescinding #DACA will be far reaching,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted. "Dems will do all we can to prevent @POTUS’ order from becoming reality.”
But so far, few Republicans — aside from a handful in California, Florida, Arizona and other states with large immigrant populations — are willing to publicly join in supporting Dreamers.
Many other Republicans believed the Obama-era DACA was unlawful, because it was created by executive action rather than in Congress, and they are quietly — or, in some cases, vocally — welcoming Trump’s move, even as they criticize the White House for not going far enough to immediately end the program.
“Former #DACA‘s will make great “Peace Corp” volunteers in home countries,” tweeted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who once complained Dreamers had calves the size of cantaloupes after hauling drugs over the border with Mexico. “None would take more hardship or risk than we ask of Peace Corp.”
Now, some top Republicans see an opening to extract Trump’s other immigration priorities for building a wall along the border with Mexico or limiting legal arrivals, positioning the young Dreamers as bargaining chips in a broader compromise.
For example, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wants Congress to also consider his bill, the RAISE Act, which would curtail legal immigration, if it is to help Dreamers.
“We have to do something to stop chain migration,” Cotton said Tuesday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, referring to the ability for some legal immigrants to apply, often with years-long waiting lists, to bring family members to the United States. “I’m not going to support just a blanket amnesty.”
Other lawmakers, though, are mindful of using the immigrants — many of whom have compelling personal stories of excelling in the United States — for political gain, wary of what is certain to be a prolonged legislative battle that will probably spill into the 2018 mid-term election season.
On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois will hold a Tuesday afternoon press conference to revive support for their bill, the Bridge Act, which would give DACA recipients a five-year extension of their work permits and permission to stay in the United States while Congress considers other reforms.