WASHINGTON - The White House said Friday that President Donald Trump would announce a decision Tuesday on the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children — immigrants the president called "terrific" and said he loved.
"We love the dreamers, we love everybody," Trump told reporters Friday, using a shorthand term for the nearly 800,000 young people who were given a reprieve from deportation and temporary work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program created by the Obama administration.
Asked what he would say to young immigrants who were awaiting his move, scared about their fate, he replied: "I think the dreamers are terrific."
Trump has been torn over what to do with DACA as he faces a Tuesday deadline set by a group of Republican state lawmakers who are threatening to challenge the program in court unless Trump ends it by that date.
"I think the decision itself is weighing on him, certainly," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.
Trump had slammed the program as illegal "amnesty" during his campaign and pledged to end it on his first day in office. But he has changed his rhetoric since the election, telling those covered they could "rest easy" and continuing to grant new two-year, renewable work permits.
Trump has spent the last week repeatedly cycling through his choices, according to several people with knowledge of the deliberations. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Many DACA advocates still expect the president to announce that he will halt the issuance of new work permits under the program, effectively phasing it out.
Another option under consideration would be for the White House to announce that it will allow the lawsuit to go forward and decline to have the Justice Department defend DACA in court, taking the matter out of their hands.
One person familiar with the discussions said the president was likely ultimately to choose to end or phase out the program. But the person said the president was looking for ways to soften the blow, such as ending the program at a future date in order to giving Congress time to come up with an alternative protection.
In the meantime, advocates and lawmakers have been trying to apply last-minute pressure with Twitter messages, public comments and events.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he hoped the president would choose not to roll back DACA protections and instead give Congress time to act.
"These are kids who know no other country, who are brought here by their parents and don't know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution," he told Wisconsin radio station WCLO.
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch also urged Trump not to revoke former President Barack Obama's efforts to protect "individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here."
Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that he had a "great feeling for DACA" and said he'd be announcing a decision as soon as Friday afternoon and by Monday, at the latest.
Sanders later told reporters the White House was "in the process of finalizing" its decision and would be announcing it Tuesday.