WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday he wants Congress to pass legislation to protect illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children but offered no timetable, with existing safeguards due to expire in March.
President Donald Trump last month rescinded a program created under his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama that protected the young adult illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation and provided work permits.
Asked in a Reuters interview whether he thought Congress could tackle legislation this year to help the “Dreamers,” Ryan said the timing was unclear.
“I don’t know when we’re going to do it. We’re having lots of discussions on how to do it, and the timing is something that’s just open to debate.”
“I want to do it,” Ryan said. “The goal is: we want to fix this and we’re working on it, and we want to make sure that we do it in such a way that we don’t have the same problem down the road - that means border security and interior enforcement.”
The illegal immigrants protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are primarily Hispanic young adults.
Winning passage of legislation to protect the Dreamers may not be easy, as Congress has struggled for years to approve immigration-related legislation.
Trump has taken a hard-line stance against illegal immigrants. Under Trump’s action, the protections for the Dreamers disappear in the first week of March. He urged lawmakers to come up with an alternative before the protections expire.
Trump took Republican congressional leaders by surprise last month when he met with top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and top House of Representatives Democrat Nancy Pelosi about a potential deal on DACA. Schumer and Pelosi came away from the meeting saying they had the outlines of an agreement with Trump, but his administration subsequently made demands that angered Democrats including for funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats have said they see a budget vote in early December as a chance to try to force Republicans to accept legislation to help the Dreamers.
In December, Congress will need to pass legislation to continue funding the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year that ends next Sept. 30.
Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, will need Democratic votes to approve the spending bill. Senate rules require a super-majority of 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to pass spending bills, and Republicans have a 52-48 majority. In the House, Republican hard-liners often oppose spending legislation.
Reporting by Caren Bohan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham