The White House played clean-up Friday after President Trump suggested he was working on an executive order that would attempt to grant citizenship rights to illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” saying Mr. Trump is actually talking about two different issues.
The president is planning an executive order that would revamp the legal immigration system to add more “merit-based” conditions to those coming to the U.S., said spokesman Judd Deere.
Separately, the president is “willing to work with Congress on a negotiated legislative solution to DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], one that could include citizenship.” Mr. Deere described a piece of legislation Mr. Trump first offered in 2018.
Mr. Trump sowed confusion earlier in the day in an interview with Telemundo, in which he said he was going to be “signing a big immigration bill” in the coming weeks.
No such bill is likely to clear Congress, so the Telemundo host prompted the president whether he meant an executive order. Mr. Trump then agreed that was what he meant.
“I’m going to do a big executive order. I have the power to do it as president,” he said.
He went on: “I’m going to make DACA a part of it. But we put it in, and we’ll probably going to then be taking it out, we’re working out the legal complexities now, but I’m going to be signing a very major immigration bill as an executive order.”
“One of the aspects of the bill is going to be DACA. We’re going to have a road to citizenship.”
That stunned his supporters.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the president doesn’t have the power to grant citizenship rights through executive order.
President Barack Obama also didn’t believe he had those powers, which is why he instead created the DACA deportation amnesty, which used prosecutorial discretion to declare Dreamers off-limits for deportation, but didn’t give them a firm legal status.
Mr. Trump has flip-flopped on a number of immigration matters, dating back to his 2016 campaign, when he said he wanted to curtail the H-1B visa program that invites high-skilled workers, then said he wanted to expand it.
In office, Mr. Trump did break ground in 2018, suggesting a deal to Democrats that would include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, coupled with border wall funding, limits to the chain of legal family migration and erasing the visa lottery that doles out immigration passes based on chance.
Democrats rebuffed that offer, saying they wouldn’t bargain with Mr. Trump where Dreamers were concerned.
Many Republicans were not happy about the offer either, objecting to granting illegal immigrants citizenship — a move they consider “amnesty.”
Mr. Deere on Friday tried to draw a distinction: “That does not include amnesty,” the spokesman said.
DACA recipients have been in limbo for years.
Last month, the Supreme Court blocked Mr. Trump’s attempt to phase out the DACA program, saying he cut too many corners. But the justices said he does have the power to do it, if he follows the right procedures.