Immigration Hawks Worry Trump Backtracking on DACA
Activists warn new president would be breaking pledge to sidestep executive amnesty repeal
White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s reluctance Monday to clearly affirm President Trump’s intention to repeal his predecessor’s executive action shielding some illegal immigrants from deportation has sparked angst among hard-liners on the issue.
Spicer fielded two questions about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and avoided staking out a clear position both times. He said the president articulated a clear strategy to focus immigration enforcement on the most dangerous illegal immigrants first.
“So for now, the focus is going to be on people who’ve done harm to our country.”
“And as he said throughout the campaign, we’ve got a series of individuals we’ve got to figure out — people who have overstayed their visas, people who have committed crimes,” Spicer said. “And we’re going to go through that in a very systematic and methodical way. So for now, the focus is going to be on people who’ve done harm to our country.”
In response to the second question, Spicer said he had nothing to report regarding executive actions beyond ones announced Monday related to abortion, trade, and government employees. He also would not answer a question about whether Trump supports a bill in Congress to codify DACA into law.
“I think that we’ll have — we don’t have anything in front of us right now to sign on that — so give us a little bit of time,” he said. “We’ll see what Congress moves forward with. And then I’m sure we’ll have a further readout on both the executive order piece and on legislation.”
The comments may indicate a departure from Trump's position during the campaign. His campaign website still includes a pledge to "immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties," a reference to DACA and a later executive action — Deferred Action for the Parents of Americans (DAPA) — applying to illegal immigrants with American children.
"That's crazy and confusing," said William Gheen, founder of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. "Donald Trump promised to end Obama's unconstitutional executive orders, and that's DAPA and DACA."
DAPA never took effect because a federal judge in Texas blocked it while a lawsuit filed by a group of states proceeds.
But DACA has operated continuously since Obama created it in 2012. Some 740,000 participants not only enjoy protections against deportation but also receive work permits from the government for two-year periods. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman told Politico on Monday that the agency continues to process applications.
Joseph Guzzardi, a spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization, also criticized the apparent direction of the Trump administration.
"We would view that as a mistake on his part," he said. "That was a clear promise."
Guzzardi said it is reasonable that DACA might not be a Day One priority. But he urged the president not to backtrack.
"I would encourage him not to let it stretch out for weeks and weeks … He's got a very small window to convert on that," he said.
Other organizations favoring tighter immigration controls proceeded more cautiously. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the Trump administration should stop issuing work permits and let existing ones naturally expire. He said Spicer's comments demonstrate the need for greater clarity.
"He didn't really make that very clear, so it's hard to know what they plan to do," he said.
NumbersUSA officials indicated that they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"We had hoped, and he certainly campaigned that he would end President Obama's executive amnesty, which would include both DAPA and DACA," said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for the organization.
Gheen, of ALIPAC, said cracking down on DACA and DAPA should be a top priority.
"Every day, every hour, every minute they stand, they're encouraging illegal immigration," he said.