The Memo: DACA tensions roil GOP

The Memo: DACA tensions roil GOP
© Greg Nash

A fix for DACA is one of the most urgent issues on the congressional agenda but the politics of the subject are complicated, especially for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing MORE and his party.

The Obama-era program — its full title is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — is set to end in March, a decision that was announced by Trump in September. 

But public polling shows that the basic formulation that underpins the program is popular. And Democrats believe their party has significant leverage to tie DACA protections into a spending bill to avert a government shutdown. The deadline for such a deal is Jan. 19.

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That leaves Republicans having to decide if there is a way to extend the program’s protections while not incurring the wrath of their own base.

DACA gives protection from deportation and the right to work to around 800,000 people who entered the United States illegally as minors. 

A recent CNN poll indicated 83 percent of adults want the program’s benefits to remain in place. An NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll conducted last month suggested 62 percent of Americans want the program to endure, 19 percent want it to end and 19 percent are unsure.

Trump was elected while promising a much stricter approach to illegal immigration, however. 

He has suggested that any extension of DACA protections needs to go hand-in-hand with strengthened border enforcement, conservative changes to current immigration law and some progress toward building the southern border wall that he promised on the campaign trail.

Trump told The New York Times last week, “I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall.”

Democrats say support for the wall is a non-starter, although they appear to be open to some degree of strengthened border enforcement. 

But immigration hawks are pressing Republican lawmakers not to shift too far from the promises they believe got Trump elected in the first place.

“The president ran on some key, fundamental reforms to our immigration system,” said R.J. Hauman, the government relations director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors a more conservative approach to immigration. “The reforms that the president ran on should be the priorities of Congress — not a DACA amnesty for illegal aliens.”

Conservative lawmakers have struck similar chords. Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold King Majority of voters see Trump's border proposal as 'good faith' start to negotiations GOP rep in op-ed: ‘Some people affiliated with our party have made racist comments’ Steve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments MORE (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner, told Sirius XM’s “Breitbart News Tonight” last month, “If [Trump] will follow through and put an end to DACA, then he’s in a place to be the first presidential candidate in — who knows, our lifetime — to lay out promises on a campaign trail and have a chance to keep them all, and that would be a tremendous legacy.”

King said keeping that promise was “far more important and far more valuable to America than keeping people here who are here illegally.”

But other Republicans see things very differently. At the start of December, 34 House Republicans signed a letter to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAs new Congress begins, federal-state connections are as important as ever Trump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president MORE (R-Wis.) calling for a vote before the end of 2017 on legislation to protect DACA recipients. 

The need for a fix is felt especially strongly among members from more diverse or competitive districts. Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloOregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Hispanic Caucus boasts record membership in new Congress MORE (R-Fla.) joined Democrats in voting against a short-term spending measure just before the Christmas recess. 

In a statement at the time, Curbelo said, “These are America’s children, and they have earned a future in our country.” Curbelo’s district is approximately two-thirds Latino. Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Poll shows 36 percent support Trump's reelection, 43 percent prefer generic Democrat How the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit MORE carried it by around 16 points in the 2016 presidential election. 

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Democrats are doing nothing for DACA — just interested in politics.  DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President! We are about RESULTS.”

Such claims are viewed with extreme skepticism both by Democrats and by most neutral observers. In the past three presidential elections, Latino voters have favored the Democratic candidate by wide margins.

DACA has pitfalls for the Democratic leadership in Washington, too, especially if they are judged by their base to not be assertive enough in their dealings with the White House. 

There has always been some discontent among progressives that Democratic leaders have gone along with two short-term spending deals, in September and just before the Christmas recess, without any action on DACA.

Many liberals say there can be no third strike on the issue.

“The absolute priority is to make sure ‘Dreamers’ receive the protections they need before anything else moves,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.