The Republican party's toughest anti-immigration voices say they’ve been abandoned in the debate over the fate of the 800,000 young people living in the country under DACA’s protections.
There's little they can do in Congress to stop what appears to be a looming deal between Republicans, Democrats and the White House, despite repeated assurances from then-candidate Donald Trump throughout his 2016 campaign that he would be immigration hardliners’ champion.
With few voices left at the negotiating table, anti-immigration voices on Capitol Hill and around the country are scrambling to find what if any leverage they have left in the debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“It looks to me like it’s shaping up to be a disaster, a calamity that the Democrats have dreamed of and engineered," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, long one of the GOP’s most outspoken hardliners.
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"Republicans have no motivation to do this,” King added. “They’re watching as Democrats are shifting the electorate in America, demographically speaking."
Immigration hardliners, who don’t want to see a path to legal status for DACA recipients, say they have few options to influence a pending deal.
A group of three Republicans and three Democrats offered a tentative deal Thursday, but it’s unclear that Trump and House Republicans will go along. The agreement would reportedly help DACA beneficiaries stay in this country, though details were unclear.
Hardliners quickly rejected the Senate plan.
“It is almost astonishing to me that the same group of people that tried to pass a Senate bill under President Obama are now pushing for the same kind of response to the immigration crisis we have in the United States,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
Trump announced in September that he planned to end DACA March 5, making good on a campaign promise viewed as crucial by the conservatives who fueled his victory. He also asked Congress to come up with a solution that would codify the program without deporting its beneficiaries, who he called “good, educated and accomplished young people.”
The no-compromise contingent says Trump won the presidency, in part, by promising to be an ally on their issues. They watched in horror on Tuesday as he met at the White House with members of Congress from both parties to negotiate a deal to protect Dreamers from deportation.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘betrayal’ yet, because we haven’t reached the end of the line here... But I think it’s really important for the president to hear from all of us,” conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said of the meeting. “Trump won this election in large part by having a different attitude than the rest of the GOP Establishment on the issue of immigration.”
“I would call upon the president to go back to his campaign promise, the one that lived and existed January 20 of last year, which was to end DACA,” said King, who met with Trump to discuss the issue in December.
King said many immigration hardliners, who were excluded from the White House meeting, are still weighing their options for leverage. He said next moves could include a press conference, legislation or collaboration with an outside group.
But even the toughest anti-immigration voices concede: Congress is negotiating on Trump’s terms.
“We certainly don’t think any amnesty ever is a good idea, but you also have to live in the real world where you see the administration signaling that they’re willing to do some trading in order to resolve the situation,” said Eric Ruark, director of research at NumbersUSA.
The prevailing view of congressional conservatives is that they must meet Trumps’ demands, even if an eventual deal could cost the president part of his base.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R- N.C., who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he would support a deal that allows protections for DACA recipients, as long as it met Trump’s requirements from securing the border, ending family-based or “chain” migration, and ending the diversity visa lottery.
“As long as [a deal] includes the four foundational principles... in exchange for relief for DACA recipients, I can certainly support that,” said Meadows.
Meadows acknowledged the divide Trump could cause in pushing for that kind of deal.
“It's probably one of the few issues where there can be space between president and conservative members," said Meadows. "It could create some daylight between the president and the grassroots."
Labrador, a leading voice on immigration control, was among four House Republicans who Thursday introduced their own DACA solution, the Securing America’s Future Act.
That plan, which allows DACA recipients to reapply for their protections every three years, is designed to appeal to conservatives.
“President Trump understands this is the issue that elected him. His base will forgive a lot of things but they will not forgive a betrayal on immigration,” he said.
Conservative media hosts were livid over Trump’s meeting with lawmakers Tuesday, saying he’d sold out them out on a top priority.
“Two parties are united against the people today,” radio host Mark Levin said of the meeting on his show Tuesday.
Conservative radio host Michael Savage said Wednesday, “I realize that [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi has dreamers and Trump has dreamers, and the church has dreamers, but what happened to, we, the American people who dreamed about making America great again?”
Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman contributed