President Trump affirmed Thursday morning that a deal was in the works with Democrats that would protect some 800,000 DREAMers who could face deportation when DACA expires next year in exchange for "massive border controls" and a border wall to come later.
Trump's remarks went some distance toward clarifying the mixed messages he's been putting out in the form of tweets in recent days. After leading Democrats indicated they were close to a deal to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is scheduled to end in March, the president tweeted that "no deal" had been made.
However, speaking to reporters early Thursday, Trump said: "We're working on a plan — subject to getting massive border controls."
"We're working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen," the president said. "You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we're working on a plan, we'll see how it works out. We're going to get massive border security as part of that. And I think something can happen, we'll see what happens, but something will happen."
He added, "The wall will come later, we're right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "agree with it," while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are "on board," he said.
Pelosi discussed the plan to aid Dreamers during a news conference Thursday morning:
Schumer and Pelosi put out a statement Thursday acknowledging that a deal had yet to be finalized, but said that the president's early tweets suggesting otherwise were "inconsistent" with the partial agreement reached Wednesday night.
"As we said last night, there was no final deal, but there was agreement on the following: We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act," the joint statement from the House and Senate Democratic leaders said. "What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible."
The latest characterizations of the evolving deal from both sides early Thursday followed considerable confusion earlier.
There were few details in the short joint announcement from Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi Wednesday night.
" 'We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides.' "
They added that they "urged the President to make permanent" federal government subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, "and those discussions will continue."
The White House, for its part, called the dinner meeting "constructive," but didn't claim any breakthroughs. A White House official said they discussed multiple topics, including "tax reform, border security, DACA, infrastructure and trade," and it was "a positive step toward the President's strong commitment to bipartisan solutions for the issues most important to all Americans."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also denied that Trump had agreed to exclude the building of a border wall from any legislation.
Schumer's communications director Matt House responded that Trump "made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the DACA program would be ending in March 2018 unless Congress took action to protect those affected. The program, implemented by an executive action from President Obama in 2012, temporarily protected young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation if they met certain requirements. The program also let them apply for work permits, but did not give them official legal immigration status.
DACA recipients are often called "DREAMers" after a proposed but never passed bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
As NPR reported last week, Sanders said Trump wants action to make the program permanent, but only as part of a "comprehensive" immigration overhaul that would include ending illegal immigration, using a "merit based" immigration system, and preventing people from overstaying visas.
Trump indicated Thursday that he didn't want to "throw out" the DREAMers, and seemed to advocate for increased border security with any legislation.
On Wednesday night, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona congratulated the president "for pursuing agreement that will protect #Dreamers from deportation." The Republican senator is particularly vulnerable in the 2018 elections, as NPR's Jessica Taylor noted Wednesday.
But conservative Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has a history of making anti-immigrant statements, responded to the news with a tweet calling a potential deal "Unbelievable!" and adding that the "Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible."
Right-wing news site Breitbart, with former White House adviser Steve Bannon back at the helm, called the president "Amnesty Don" in response.
The announcement came a week after Democrats said they reached a deal with Trump on providing hurricane relief, temporarily raising the debt ceiling and funding the government — a deal that upset Republican leadership.
The prospect of Congress reaching an agreement on legislation to help DREAMers, however, is far from certain.
The DREAM Act has languished in Congress since it was originally introduced in 2001. Over the past 16 years, lawmakers have floated different versions of the bill. Each would grant permanent legal status to young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally, as long as they meet certain requirements.
Republicans want broader immigration policy legislation, including tougher border security measures, to be part of any type of DREAMer protection. Bennett says the "most likely path seems to be for Democrats to attach it to the must-pass fiscal legislation when it comes up again by early December."
Reaction in Southern California
Some young immigrants in Los Angeles reacted skeptically — and with apprehension — to the messages and statements from President Trump and congressional Democrats about a possible DACA deal on the horizon.
Melody Klingenfuss, a 23-year-old DACA recipient, came to the U.S. at age 9 from Guatemala. She said she doesn’t want other immigrants to be thrown under the bus while DACA participants benefit from any agreement.
“There have been talks that we are going to be bargaining chips," Klingenfuss said. If a version of the Dream Act moves forward, "it will only be done in exchange for more criminalization of our communities," referring to stepped up immigration enforcement and border security.
Ivan Ceja, a 25-year-old DACA recipient born in Mexico, co-founded his own social media nonprofit. He raised concerns that the young immigrants are being painted as "good" immigrants as compared to others deemed "bad" immigrants. It's a narrative that he says young immigrants like him, who pushed for legal status early on, inadvertently helped fuel.
“Years ago, when it was time to push for the Dream Act, I remember seeing messaging on signs that said, 'We are not criminals,' or putting us in caps and gowns." He said that focused attention on the young immigrants' innocence, because they came to the U.S. as minors through no fault of their own.
"So we were washing away the fault. But then again in the process, someone had to go ahead and take on that fault, and in many cases this was our parents, our guardians ... and that can be very damaging,” he said.
Check back for updates to this story.