By James Oliphant and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will not necessarily insist on including funding for a border wall with Mexico in legislation to address protections for children brought to the United States illegally, a senior aide said on Tuesday.
White House legislative director Marc Short, speaking to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, said the administration will lay out its priorities for a fix for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the next couple of weeks.
While Trump remains committed to his campaign promise to build the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, “whether or not that is specifically part of a DACA package or a different legislative package, I am not going to prejudge here today,” Short said.
“I don’t want to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible,” Short said.
Short’s comments were the latest signal that the Republican president wants to see if he can engage Democrats as well as Republicans in trying to enact his agenda.
On Tuesday evening, he is scheduled to have dinner with a bipartisan group of senators whose support he hopes to win on legislation to overhaul the tax code.
Democrats welcomed Short’s DACA comments, saying they cleared away a major stumbling to legislation to help DACA recipients, known as Dreamers.
Democrats have insisted they will not allow border funding to be part of any legislation and would likely have the votes in the Senate to block a provision to which they objected.
“That’s an important position because we cannot make a 2,200 mile (3,540 km) wall a condition for passing the Dream Act and we’ve been very clear from the start,” said Senator Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat who has been working for the past 16 years to legislate protections for the Dreamers.
Democrats are willing to work with the White House and congressional Republicans on other border security measures as part of the legislation, Durbin added.
But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to limit legal and illegal immigration, criticized the potential shift on DACA, saying the White House forfeited leverage it needs to tighten border enforcement.
Krikorian said the administration seemed to be looking for an “escape hatch” on the controversial DACA program. “It does suggest how much Trump wants this DACA issue to go away,” he said.
Trump said last week he was ending an Obama-era program that protects from the deportation of immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children, but he gave U.S. lawmakers six months to act on the issue.
The move put the onus on Congress to address the nearly 800,000 Dreamers now facing uncertainty about their status in a country that for many is the only one they have known.