Congressional Republicans are looking to revive legislation that could give a deportation reprieve to thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, in turn easing the pressure on President Trump as he faces a deadline to decide the fate of a related Obama-era program.
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Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is leading the charge on a conservative version of the so-called Dream Act. The talks come as Trump prepares to announce whether he’ll keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which was former President Barack Obama’s unilateral, executive-action version of Dream Act legislation.
The timing for a Trump announcement has been fluid. In the most recent guidance, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the decision will be made next Tuesday.
Trump initially had said the call could come as early as Friday or this weekend, without going into detail. Asked if ‘Dreamers,’ or those affected by the policy, should be worried, Trump told reporters: "We love Dreamers. We love everybody."
One official told Fox News earlier that Trump ultimately is expected to end DACA, while allowing those in the country who qualified under the program to stay until their work permits expire.
Such a move would infuriate Democrats – as well as some moderate Republicans. However, if lawmakers can draft legislation that accomplishes similar goals, it could give Trump some leeway to end DACA without significant impact.
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A senior administration official suggested Friday that the onus was back on Congress to pursue a legislative solution.
"Congress has to do this,” the official told Fox News.
Some Republicans support the goals of Obama’s DACA but think the former president committed an overreach by doing it through executive action. Tillis’ office pointed to this distinction in describing his legislative effort.
“Regardless of the policy itself, DACA is an executive overreach that sets immigration policy through executive order instead of the proper channel—legislation,” Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin told Fox News. “It’s the responsibility of Congress, not the President to offer a long-term legislative fix.”
Congress has been considering legislation to shield young illegal immigrants from deportation for years, dating back to the George W. Bush administration. Lawmakers tried again to pass a bill during the Obama administration, but couldn’t muster the votes amid flagging Republican support. The Obama administration announced the DACA policy in 2012.
According to Keylin, Tillis will be working with Republicans on “conservative legislation” to address the “long-term uncertainty” undocumented minors face. Kelyin told Fox News that they needed to create a “fair but rigorous process” for legal status, requiring individuals 18 or older to either be “employed, pursue post-secondary education, or serve in the Armed Forces.”
While the legislation is still being drafted, McClatchy reported that Tillis' bill is expected to be similar to one introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. Curbelo’s bill, the “Recognizing America’s Children Act,” would offer an eventual path to U.S. citizenship to immigrants who entered illegally before Jan. 1, 2012 and were 16 years old or younger, according to the Miami Herald.
“The White House has sent a very strong message by preserving the executive order that protects these young people,” Curbelo said in an interview with the Miami Herald in March. “We know that they’ve been very aggressive when it comes to immigration policy, so it certainly stands out that they have left the DACA executive order untouched.”
On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he supported a legislative solution to protect undocumented minors, but also urged the president to reconsider scrapping DACA.
"I actually don't think he should do that and I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix," Ryan said on radio station WCLO in Janesville, Wis., Friday. "President Obama did not have a legislative authority to do what he did."
Ryan added: "There are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don't know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also weighed in on the issue, calling on the president to halt rescinding DACA, saying it would “further complicate a system in serious need of permanent, legislative solution.”
Hatch added that the “solution must come from Congress,” and that he will be working with colleagues and the administration to pass “meaningful immigration reform” and provide a “workable path forward for the Dreamer population.”
Then-candidate Trump promised to terminate DACA during the 2016 presidential campaign, but since taking office has weighed whether to preserve components of it.
Looming in the background is the threat of potential legal action by state attorneys general led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other AGs who oppose DACA. Paxton said Thursday that his office would stick to a previously determined Sept. 5 deadline set by officials from Texas for a decision.
Fox News’ John Roberts, Chad Pergram and Kelly Chernenkoff contributed to this report.