Washington — A plan President Donald Trump is expected to announce Tuesday for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children was embraced by some top Republicans on Monday and denounced by others as the beginning of a “civil war” within the party.
The response was an immediate illustration of the potential battles ahead if Trump follows through with a plan that would hand a political hot potato to Republicans on the Hill who have a long history of dropping it.
Two people familiar with his decision making said Sunday that Trump was preparing to announce an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, but with a six-month delay intended to give Congress time to pass legislation that would address the status of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants covered by the program.
The move comes after a long and notably public deliberation. Despite campaigning as an immigration hard-liner, Trump has said he is sympathetic to the plight of the immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and in some cases have no memories of the countries they were born in.
But such an approach is fraught with uncertainty and political perils that amount, according to one vocal opponent, to “Republican suicide.”
Still other Republicans say they are ready to take on a topic that has proven a non-starter and career-breaker for decades.
“If President Trump makes this decision we will work to find a legislative solution to their dilemma,” said Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.
Officials caution Trump’s plan, set to be unveiled Tuesday, is not yet finalized, and the president, who has been grappling with the issue for months, has been known to change his mind at the last minute ahead of an announcement. It also remains unclear exactly how a six-month delay would work in practice, including whether the government would continue to process applications under the program, which has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the country in the form of two-year, renewable permits.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and a handful of other Republicans urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA to give lawmakers time to come up with a legislative fix.
But Congress has repeatedly tried — and failed — to come together on immigration overhaul legislation, and it remains uncertain whether the House would succeed in passing anything on the divisive topic.
The House under Democratic control passed a Dream Act in 2010, but it died in the Senate. Since Republicans retook control of the House in late 2010, it has taken an increasingly hard line on immigration.
Many House Republicans represent highly conservative districts, and if the president goes through with the six-month delay — creating a March deadline — the pressure is likely to be amplified as primary races intensify head of the 2018 midterm elections.
The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap as they pushed unsuccessfully for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress. Many Republicans say they opposed the program on the grounds that it was executive overreach.
Legislation to legalize the so-called Dreamers has been lingering in Congress for years, with a handful of bills currently pending in the House and Senate.
The one that has received the most attention, introduced by Sens. Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would grant permanent legal status to more than 1 million young people who arrived in the United States before they turned 18, passed security checks and met other criteria, including enrolling in college, joining the military or finding jobs.
Graham said in a statement Monday that he would support the president if he decided ultimately to go through with the plan as outlined.
But Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who believes that DACA is unconstitutional, warned that pushing the decision to Congress would be a big mistake.
“That would cause a great big civil war among the Republicans,” he said last week. “We’ve got enough of never-Trumpers in Congress that are undermining the president’s agenda.”
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