WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan urged President Donald Trump on Friday not to rescind an Obama-era program that protects immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children, as more Republicans lined up against the move.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump will announce on Tuesday whether he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which protects nearly 800,000 young men and women from deportation. It also makes those covered, so-called Dreamers, eligible for work permits.
“We love the ‘Dreamers,’” the Republican president, already facing calls from leading business figures and Democrats to preserve the program, told reporters in the Oval Office, without tipping his hand on the decision.
Ryan and Senator Orrin Hatch on Friday joined a small but growing number of lawmakers from the party that controls Congress and the White House to speak out against killing DACA, created in 2012 by Democratic former President Barack Obama and long the target of conservative immigration hard-liners.
“I actually don’t think he should do that, and I believe that this is something Congress has to fix,” Ryan said in an interview with WCLO radio in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Ryan said he believes Obama exceeded his authority in creating DACA by executive order, bypassing Congress, but there now are “people who are in limbo.”
“These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution. That’s one that we’re working on. And I think we want to give people peace of mind,” Ryan added.
Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, said she was “heartened” by Ryan’s comments and asked him to meet with Democratic lawmakers next week to discuss a “comprehensive legislative solution.”
Hatch said in a statement rescinding the program would further complicate a U.S. immigration system sorely in need of legislative reform.
“Like the president, I’ve long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws. But we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here. And that solution must come from Congress,” the longest-serving Republican senator added.
Tennessee’s Republican attorney general, Herbert Slatery, said his office will not participate in a lawsuit challenging DACA that is expected to be filed by a group of Republican state attorneys general next week, and urged Congress to pursue a legislative fix.
“Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country,” Slatery wrote in a letter to Tennessee’s two Republican U.S. senators.
About 200 Dreamers and their supporters turned out on Friday for a rally in downtown Los Angeles to urge national leaders not to end the program.
Among them was Docnary Reyes, 21, who came to the United States from Guatemala with her parents in 1997 when she was a toddler. Before obtaining DACA in 2014, Reyes had to work under-the-table cleaning apartments, she said.
Her work authorization allowed her to obtain a paid internship last year working on a project involving cyanobacteria. The Los Angeles resident will continue her education at the University of California, Davis, to study environmental restoration.
“I feel like I really care about our environment and not enough people do,” Reyes said.
Trump made a crackdown on illegal immigrants a centerpiece of his 2016 election campaign and has stepped up deportations since taking office in January. But business leaders say immigrants make important economic contributions and that ending the program would hit economic growth and tax revenue.
Leading business figures including Facebook Inc (FB.O) CEO Mark Zuckerberg have rallied in defense of the program and the Dreamers.
Congress under presidents of both parties has been unable to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Spokeswoman Sanders said Trump, who previously has called DACA illegal, is not taking the decision lightly.
“The president’s priorities on immigration are to create a system that encourages legal immigration and benefits our economy and American workers,” Sanders told a news briefing.
Most of the Dreamer immigrants came from Mexico and other Latin American countries. More than 200,000 live in California, while 100,000 are in Texas. New York, Illinois and Florida also have large numbers.
What to do about Dreamers has been actively debated within the White House and Trump administration. One senior administration official described the debate as a “tug of war” between factions in favor and against the move.
DACA supporters argue that the people it protects grew up and were educated in the United States and were integrated into American society, with little connection to the countries in which they are citizens. Opponents of the program argue that illegal immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens.
There are deep divisions in the United States over the fate of roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, most of them Hispanics. Trump as a candidate promised to deport all of them.
Undoing DACA could have political consequences for Trump and his fellow Republicans, further alienating Hispanics, a growing voting bloc in the United States. Trump’s pardon for an Arizona sheriff who critics accused of targeting Hispanics, his planned wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and his comments about Mexico sending “rapists” and drug dealers into the United States already had antagonized many Hispanic Americans.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by David Alexander, David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Dan Levine in San Francisco; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Grant McCool and Mary Milliken