WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday again blamed Democrats for the Republican-controlled Congress’ failure to act on immigration.
Democrats, on the other hand, said Trump and his allies have caused the impasse, accusing them of playing politics with the lives of nearly 800,000 young people who were raised illegally in this country.
Meanwhile, the six members of the Arkansas congressional delegation all agreed that the illegal immigrants should have the opportunity to remain in their adopted country. But the members, all Republicans, insisted in interviews that the solution goes hand in hand with border security.
In September, the White House announced it was ending the previous administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — or DACA — which allows the so-called Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. At the time, Trump called for Congress to find a legislative solution to the situation.
A large number of religious leaders, including Cross Church Northwest Arkansas Pastor Ronnie Floyd, have urged lawmakers to help the Dreamers. Business leaders, including Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon, have also voiced support.
On Twitter, Trump said the opposition party is at fault for the inaction.
“Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal. They talk about DACA, but they don’t want to help. We are ready, willing and able to make a deal but they don’t want to,” he tweeted.
Trump wrote that Democrats “don’t want security at the border,” and in a subsequent tweet said: “Deals can’t get made when there is no trust!”
With federal funding set to run out at midnight Friday, the disagreement also raised the specter of another government shutdown.
While the politicians argued, a group of five Arkansas activists — first- and second-generation immigrants — headed to the nation’s capital to make a final appeal.
Mireya Reith, founding executive director of Arkansas United Community Coalition, spoke Monday afternoon for the travelers and other members of her pro-immigrant group. She said they are “frustrated and disappointed” with the Arkansas congressional delegation.
“You call our congressmen and our senators and you literally will hear the exact same response from all six of them. It’s extremely coordinated,” she said. “It’s obvious they don’t care what the impact is back home here in Arkansas. They’re just going to follow President Trump’s lead on this.”
Most of the DACA beneficiaries were brought into the country illegally by their parents. Others entered legally but stayed after their visas had expired.
For years, they’ve sought a pathway to legal residency and eventual citizenship. Congress has failed to act on the issue, despite being urged to do so by then-President Barack Obama and now Trump.
In late 2012, Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program. It allowed Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. legally for two years without fear of arrest and deportation; after two years, their status can be renewed.
In interviews in recent days, members of the Arkansas delegation have expressed sympathy for the Dreamers.
“These are young people that were educated in the United States. I’ve seen homecoming queens. I’ve seen people that were [first in] their class. They’re as American as any of us,” U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers said.
The goal is to help them without encouraging others to enter illegally, he said.
“We have to do this very carefully,” he added. “If you don’t secure the border, then you’re going to be in the same situation five or 10 years later. People are just going to continue to come.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said there’s broad bipartisan support for helping the Dreamers.
“No one wants to see these people face deportation. They were brought here as children years ago through no fault of their own. But if we give them legal status, we have to realize that’s inevitably going to encourage more illegal immigration in the future, especially with children, which is a dangerous thing to do,” the lawmaker from Dardanelle said.
Cotton and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., have introduced legislation that would sharply curtail legal immigration, in part by preventing newcomers from subsequently bringing their extended family members as well.
The bill would eliminate a lottery that sets aside 50,000 visas for people living in countries with lower rates of immigration to the U.S. It also would give preference to highly skilled workers.
Michael John Gray, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said it’s wrong for Congress to hold the Dreamers hostage.
“They’ve got to pass a clean Dream Act,” he said Monday. “I think there’s a discussion to be had about border security and a clear path to citizenship, but you don’t use people’s lives as a bargaining chip.”
He denounced Republicans for placing a higher priority on winning than on doing what is right.
“You shouldn’t have to get your way to treat people with decency and respect. That should be the default in the United States,” he said.
“Our request and our demand is that we don’t go back and revisit these issues year [after] year,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers. “I’ve said until I’m blue in the face that none of these immigration-related issues can get solved entirely and completely without having first a secure border. … I want to see it markedly more difficult to sneak into this country and indeed have a process where people that desire to come live the American dream do so in a legal and forthright way.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said he considers DACA “a priority for 2018.”
“We need to find an equitable solution for the 800,000 Dreamers in the country that equitably takes care of them and the country, lets them stay and work in the United States but doesn’t exacerbate the challenge by creating a future problem of illegal migration across the border.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said he understands why the Dreamers came to America and doesn’t want to punish them.
“If my parents brought me to a country … to try and improve my life, I probably would say, ‘Thank you,’ to my parents and hope I got to stay,” the lawmaker from Jonesboro said.
But a legal fix that helps Dreamers should also make the nation more secure, he said.
“I think we can address DACA in the context of border security and not do any injustice to anyone,” he added.
He noted that illegal border crossings are at a 45-year-low, but sees room for improvement.
He envisions a solution that includes money for better technology and more border control agents.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman wants the issue resolved through legislation, not through a presidential decree.
The lawmaker from Hot Springs said Trump was right to end DACA.
“He’s put it on Congress to come up with a plan, and I think we’ll come up with a good solution that’s good for the country,” he said. “We’ve got to secure the border so that we don’t have this problem in the future.”