The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump

President Trump would enthuse his base — but also risk alienating the broader electorate — if he ends an Obama-era program that provides protection to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

The Republican Party itself could also suffer adverse political consequences if Trump presses ahead, a sentiment that may be reflected in Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE’s (R-Wis.) remarks to a Wisconsin radio station that the president should not end the program.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRead Senate GOP's tax bill Senate panel to start tax bill markup on Monday Senate set for clash with House on tax bill MORE (R-Utah) also urged Trump not to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on Friday.

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Trump on Friday said a decision could happen this afternoon, or over the weekend.

A decision from Trump has been expected given a legal challenge promised from Texas and other states on Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCurtis wins Chaffetz's former Utah House seat Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny FBI can’t unlock Texas shooter’s phone MORE and others in the administration have reportedly argued that DACA would not pass muster with the courts. 

Around 800,000 people have benefited from the program, which gives two-year renewable work permits and de facto protection from deportation to recipients, so long as they meet certain conditions.  

Ending the program would be consistent with promises Trump made on the campaign trail, when he called DACA an “illegal amnesty.”

But it would sit uneasily with the softer language Trump used when he took office. In January, days after his inauguration, Trump told ABC News that DACA recipients “shouldn’t be very worried” and that he had “a big heart.”

The tension between those two positions reflects Trump’s central dilemma. 

The segments of his base most opposed to illegal immigration believe DACA was wrong on principle and that it also represented an unconstitutional use of executive power by Obama.

But among the broader population, DACA recipients are seen as having perhaps the most sympathetic case of any cohort of illegal immigrants. Many of those covered by the program have no memory of a home outside the United States.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) predicted in a Thursday evening phone interview with The Hill that Trump could announce the end of the program as early as Friday.

“I think he is going to cave in to the harsher voices in his base,” Grijalva said.

The liberal Democratic congressman argued that Trump was seeking a politically perilous, base-first route out of a conundrum.

“He is trying to satisfy his more extreme base on immigration and at the same time he realizes that the vast majority — maybe 70 percent — of the American people believe DACA should be left alone and that the DREAMers [DACA recipients] should be allowed get on with their lives,” Grijalva said.

An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Thursday indicated that 64 percent of adults support DACA, more than twice the 30 percent who oppose it.

A Morning Consult/POLITICO poll from late April indicated that 78 percent of registered voters believed DACA recipients should be allowed to stay in the United States, either as citizens or as legal residents.

But some of the voices within Trump’s base insist that he was elected in large part because he promised to pursue a harder line than previous administrations on illegal immigration in general.

To allow DACA to continue would be “a clear reversal of a promise that he made,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which supports robust enforcement of immigration laws and lower overall immigration levels.

In an opinion article for Breitbart earlier this week, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wrote, “Allowing 800,000 illegal aliens to stay and compete with our citizens for jobs can be called a lot of things, but it cannot be called a policy which places America First.”

Last November, Trump held the traditional Democratic advantage with Hispanic voters to a lower level than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney had done. 

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE bested Trump by 38 points among Latino voters (66-28), according to exit polls. Four years previously, President Obama defeated Romney by 44 points with the same group (71-27).

Trump had launched his campaign with a speech in which he accused Mexico of “sending…rapists” to the United States, and one of his most memorable pledges was to build a wall on the southern border.

However, Democratic strategists are adamant that ending DACA would both doom Trump with Latino voters in 2020 and sully the Republican brand more generally.

“This is going to have huge, huge implications for Republicans,” said José Dante Parra, a one-time aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidTop Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor GOP in uncharted territory rolling back rules through resolutions MORE (D-Nev.), who is now the CEO of strategic communications firm Prospero Latino.

“The best hope that Republicans had in the past was that Latinos would not vote,” Parra added. If Trump ended DACA, “this is just going to give more impetus for people to come out. My parents have been American citizens now for years. They are not DREAMers but they were undocumented once. They will see an assault on DREAMers as an assault on them.”

Alexander Sager, a Portland State University professor who has written frequently on the politics of immigration, said an end to DACA by Trump would be “a signaling to his base…President Trump seemed to have been wavering back and forth on his positions on DACA but now he seems to be digging his heels in.”

For Sager, ending of DACA would be consistent with Trump’s recent pardon of Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa Co., Ariz.

“Both of those moves, I don’t think they’re widely supported even among Republicans,” said Sager. “They are both really an attempt, for whatever reason, to ensure the support of his base.”

That base has been applying its own significant pressure on Trump to hold firm to the pledge to end DACA.

Roy Beck, the president of Numbers USA, which wants a harder line on immigration, said in a recent statement that his organization had been mobilizing “our 8-million-member network” to make sure Trump did not backslide by breaking “one of the clearest campaign promises he made.”

The danger for Trump is how keeping that promise will play, for him and for his party, among the electorate at large.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE’s presidency.