U.S. President Donald Trump contended Sunday that a U.S. program to protect young immigrants from deportation is "probably dead," saying that opposition Democrats "don't really want it," but just want to be able to talk about the issue.
The fate of the program protecting nearly 800,000 immigrants from deportation who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents years ago when they were children is at the forefront of the Washington political debate this week. It is part of discussions between the White House and Congress over new funding for the government to avert a partial government shutdown when U.S. agencies run out of money at midnight Friday.
Trump last week rejected a bipartisan proposal offered him by three Republican and three Democratic senators to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect the young immigrants from deportation. The lawmakers also called for other immigration policy changes, including increased funding for security along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where Trump is demanding that a wall be built to thwart more illegal immigration.
But in the course of the White House meeting, Trump sparked an international uproar by reportedly describing Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as "s---hole countries," questioning why more immigrants from those countries should be allowed into the United States.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois who was at the Oval Office meeting claimed the president made the derogatory term. Trump admtted to using "tough" language but has denied making the statement.
Trump's denial was supported in separate appearances on Sunday news programs by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.
In an appearance on the CBS news program "Face the Nation" Cotton said, "I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was." Cotton added that people shouldn't be surprised by Durbin's comments because the Illinois senator "has a history of "misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings." On ABC's "This Week" Republican Senator Perdue flatly denied Trump made the comment.
In a pair of Twitter comments Sunday, Trump accused Democrats of trying to "take desperately needed money away from our Military" as part of the immigration and funding discussions.
He said that as president he wants "people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries! #AMERICA FIRST."
Trump is calling for the end of of an immigration lottery program under which some foreigners have through a yearly drawing been able to legally emigrate to the U.S. Trump claims that other countries have sent potential terrorists and their most poorly educated citizens to America.
Trump last year ended the DACA program that was created by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, but delayed deportations to give Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue. Trump, at an unusual televised meeting with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers last week, told them he would sign whatever immigration legislation they could agree on, but then rebuffed the first compromise offered him by the six senators, with more conservative Republican lawmakers calling for tougher immigration restrictions.
Meantime, a U.S. district court judge in California last week, over protests from Trump, ruled that for the moment at least he cannot end the DACA program.
On Saturday, the government said it has resumed accepting requests to renew grants from the young immigrants to protect them from deportation. Many of the immigrants, called Dreamers by their advocates, have only known the U.S. as their home.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a statement on its website, "Until further notice . . . the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded" by Trump last September 5.
The statement said that people who were previously granted deferred action under DACA may request renewal, but added that the agency is not accepting requests from individuals who were never granted deferred action under DACA.
A DACA deferment gives prosecutors discretion on enforcing immigration laws, effectively allowing the undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.