The top White House adviser said Tuesday he doubts President Donald Trump would consider extending the deadline he set for Congress to codify protections for young illegal immigrants, even if lawmakers fail to come to an agreement.
The soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA) program was created by former President Barack Obama in an extra-constitutional manner, so Trump cannot unilaterally push back his self-imposed March 5 deadline, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“Mr. Obama established the program, and it was considered to be unconstitutional, not based on any law, Kelly said after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to Politico. “So the extension, I’m not so sure the president, this president, has the authority to extend it.”
The White House chief added that he would “certainly advise against” Trump’s asking lawmakers to pass a short-term extension of DACA protections because it would let lawmakers off the hook.
“What makes them act is pressure,” Kelly said, according to the Associated Press.
Trump ended the DACA program in 2017 and gave Congress until March 5 to craft a bill that would give some sort of permanent legal status to the roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants who had been covered by the program. Negotiations have started and stalled several times since then, with Republicans and Democrats unable to agree on the scope of such a bill or what, if any, changes to immigration law should be a part of it.
The urgency of enacting a DACA replacement has receded somewhat since the administration began accepting program renewals in response to a federal court order in early January. The administration has appealed the ruling, but a decision isn’t likely until this summer.
If Trump does not extend the DACA deadline, some recipients whose deferred status and work authorization expire after March 5 could be left in legal limbo as they wait for their renewal applications to be processed. Echoing previous statement by top administration officials, Kelly told to reporters Tuesday that DACA permit holders would not be a priority for deportation.
During his unscheduled chat with reporters, Kelly defended the framework for a DACA compromise. The plan would lay out a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million younger illegal immigrants, almost three times more than the number who have active DACA status. In exchange, the framework calls for fully funding a southwest border wall, ending the diversity visa lottery, and limiting family-based visas to spouses and minor children.
“I can’t imagine men and women of goodwill who begged this president to solve the problem of DACA, as generous is that four pillars has been, I can’t imagine they would vote against it,” Kelly said, referring to Congressional Democrats.
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