A Republican senator says Donald Trump will be flexible about extending the Obama-era 'DACA' program if his six-month deadline to replace it comes and goes without congressional action.
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told The Washington Post outside a town hall event on Thursday that the president told him personally that he's in no rush to terminate a deportation reprieve for illegal immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children.
'The president's comment to me was that, "We put a six-month deadline out there. Let's work it out. If we can't get it worked out in six months, we'll give it some more time, but we've got to get this worked out legislatively",’ Lankford said.
Trump officially ended the DACA program last month but suspended the decision for a half-year, giving Congress until March 5 to incorporate it into federal law.
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President Donald Trump told a Republican senator that he'll be flexible if March 5 comes and goes without congressional action to save DACA
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford explained Thursday in Tulsa that Trump had said: 'If we can't get it worked out in six months, we'll give it some more time'
Just 1 in 5 Americans want to deport young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, a group now at the center of a politically fraught debate between the White House and Congress
The White House wants a permanent DACA 'fix' as part of a broader immigration reform package that includes money to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and to hire thousands of additional border patrol agents.
The laundry list of demands from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue also includes the power to financially cut off so-called 'sanctuary' cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
House Democrats, meanwhile, want a 'clean' DACA bill – the 'DREAM Act' – which would give permanent legal status to about 1.6 million people like those in the DACA program.
No strings should be attached, they argue.
Adding the promise of extra wiggle-room to his long-range calendar is a signal that Trump is willing to wait a bit longer for Democrats to cut the right deal with him.
Indicating flexibility now also removes a future bargaining chip from the Democrats' side of the table – the threat that Trump would be blamed if DACA recipients were suddenly left out in the cold amid comprehensive immigration negotiations in the spring.
Lankford said Trump didn't tell him how long he was willing to extend the March 5 target date. But the president is empowered to supersede his own executive orders with new ones.
The White House says making DACA permanent will come at the price of giving Trump some other concessions he wants in the immigration debate
Trump's lengthy wish list in exchange for a DACA fix also includes money for more border agents, and the authority to cut off federeal funding from cities that shield illegal immigrants from federal authorities
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Friday about how long the president is willing to allow uncertainty to hang in the air.
The president has already indicated in the past that his six-month timeframe was little more than a suggestion.
Just hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be wound down, Trump tweeted: 'Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA. If they can't, I will revisit the issue!'
Nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. are currently covered by DACA protections, safe from deportation unless they become subject to removal for criminal or other reasons.
DACA is a two-year renewable license to stay and work in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security stopped accepting renewal paperwork on September 6.
Lankford himself favors an approach that would give DREAMers a 15-year path to U.S. citizenship, while denying their adult relatives the chance to hitch a ride toward their own legal status.
'I think we'll be actually voting on something like this in January or February,' he told the Post.
Democratic leaders in Congress including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (right) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) want a 'clean' bill called the 'DREAM Act' to pass
Eight in 10 Democrats favor allowing 'Dreamer' illegal immigrants to stay in America, and so do more than 4 in 10 Republicans.
'We've got to figure out what to do with these kids,' Lankford said during his town hall event.
'These are kids that have grown up here. I'm not interested in deporting them and kicking them out. But I'm also not interested in them ending up in a limbo status on this.'
A national poll released this week by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that just 22 per cent of Americans want to deport those young illegal immigrants.
About 60 percent favor allowing them to stay in the US legally.
Sixty-eight percent of Hispanics, 61 per cent of blacks and 57 per cent of whites favor extending the existing Obama-era protections.
Eight in 10 Democrats favor allowing the young immigrants to stay in America legally. So do more than 4 in 10 Republicans.