Immigration hard-liners are holding their fire against President Trump's decision to keep an Obama administration program allowing young “dreamers” who entered the country illegally to remain.
Trump is generally clamping down on immigration enforcement, implementing policies that could cause a dramatic wave in deportations.
But he has explicitly avoided canceling President Obama’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed about 750,000 young people brought to the United States illegally as children to get permission to stay and work in this country.
The decision was a disappointment to groups who hoped to end the program.
“I’m very puzzled by the fact that he’s leaving DACA ... orders in place,” said Roy Beck, the founder of NumbersUSA, a group that wants to limit immigration to the United States.
Conservative lawmakers who campaigned on tougher immigration policies say they want to hear more from Trump before jumping to conclusions.
“With all the fake news he is countering on a daily basis, I think he is just being pragmatic. And right now, I hope we can focus on ObamaCare repeal,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Tea Party darling.
Brat said it’s possible more could be coming.
Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE “was finally put in place a couple weeks ago, so I think we have to be realistic,” he added. “I will wait to see how he addresses it. He is very big on keeping his word.”
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said leaving DACA untouched for the moment would give the administration leeway to negotiate immigration reform in the Senate “if you assume that Trump is interested in getting some legislative action from Congress.”
“They’re the negotiating tool,” he said.
Trump promised to end DACA on the campaign trail, but he has also spoken sympathetically of those who benefit from the program.
Last week, Trump said “DACA is a very, very difficult subject” that had to be dealt with with “heart.”
“You have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too,” he said. But you have some absolutely incredible kids ... they were brought here in such a way, it’s a very, very tough subject,” said Trump.
GOP leaders have also spoken positively about the program.
In January, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (R-Wis.) told an undocumented woman brought to the United States as a child that she would not face deportation.
“What we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law. And we’ve got to do this so that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under you and your family gets separated," said Ryan.
That said, it’s unclear if the administration is committed to keeping the program indefinitely.
Asked whether a decision on DACA could come any day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday said, “Yes, exactly.”
Activists are angry over the detention of Daniel Ramirez Medina, a dreamer in Seattle accused of having accepted gang membership. Ramirez's lawyer said he was pressured by federal agents “to falsely admit affiliation.”
Proponents of the program are worried that the Medina case is a sign of things to come.
Under DACA, recipients received a two-year renewable work permit. While the program remains in the books, new applicants would have to provide the federal government with personal information and an admission of being in the country illegally. One of the hurdles the program faced under Obama was getting applicants to trust that the information wouldn't be used against them.
Medina’s detention, as a result, could become an argument for not signing up for the program.
Opponents of DACA see it as a way of slowly killing off the program.
“It’s one thing to say that we’re not going to deport people who have received DACA documents, but it’s another to give out renewals,” said Beck.
“Letting it expire is different than immediately rescinding it,” said Stein. “There’s something to be said in a policy that allows a transition.”