Hopes for DACA deal fade as lawmakers clash over whether Trump uttered slur

President Trump spoke to reporters Sunday at his Florida estate. Trump on DACA: “I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal . . . they don’t want to help the DACA people.”
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
President Trump spoke to reporters Sunday at his Florida estate. Trump on DACA: “I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal . . . they don’t want to help the DACA people.”

WASHINGTON — Prospects for a bipartisan agreement to protect young immigrants from deportation and prevent a government shutdown later this week faded Sunday as lawmakers traded accusations and President Trump accused Democrats of undermining negotiations.

Negotiators spent last week seeking a solution that would shield young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, including the roughly 800,000 who secured work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created under President Obama.

But a tentative deal worked out by a small bipartisan group of senators crumbled in an Oval Office meeting in which, according to multiple people involved, an angry Trump asked them why the United States should accept immigrants from countries such as Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations over those from European countries such as Norway.


His use of a vulgarity to describe those nations set off fierce partisan attacks among Democratic and Republican senators that escalated on the talk shows Sunday.

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The rift over Trump’s comments, and how they have since been recounted, risked further eroding trust between Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of a critical week for Congress. Government funding is set to expire Friday, and lawmakers will need to pass a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday.

On Sunday, Trump blamed Democrats for refusing to negotiate in good faith.

“Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal,” he said outside one of his golf courses in Florida. “I think they talk about DACA but they don’t want to help the DACA people.”

Trump said there were “a lot of sticking points, but they are all Democratic sticking points.”


“They don’t want security at the border; there are people pouring in,” the president added. “They don’t want security at the border, they don’t want to stop the drugs.”

Democrats have tied the immigration talks to spending negotiations ahead of the shutdown deadline. Republicans seek an increase in military spending; Democrats want a DACA deal and a matching increase in nondefense funding.

Trump said he hoped there would not be a shutdown of the government over what he said was Democratic unwillingness to compromise on DACA.

“I don’t know if there is going to be a shutdown,” he said. “There shouldn’t be, because if there is, our military gets hurt very badly. We cannot let our military be hurt.”

While Democrats have expressed openness to a deal that would combine legal status for ‘‘dreamers,’’ the young immigrants brought illegally as children, with funding for border security measures, Republicans have tried to broaden the talks.


They have targeted the abolition of a special program allowing citizens of some countries to apply for visas distributed by lottery as well as rules allowing naturalized US citizens to sponsor family members — a system Republican critics call ‘‘chain migration.’’

The deal unveiled Thursday would give legal status and a pathway to citizenship for dreamers while providing $2.7 billion for border security — some of which could be used to construct a border wall.

Visas offered by lottery would be reallocated to other immigration programs.

Trump had moved to end the DACA program in September, saying that Obama had exceeded his authority when he created it. He gave Congress six months to find a fix.

Republican leaders say they want to address DACA, but separately from funding the government. Compared with their Democratic counterparts, Republican leaders are operating on a longer time frame for taking action, given the six-month window that Trump gave Congress. They also have to contend with internal divisions over immigration policy.

Still, administration officials said they intended to abide by an order from Judge William Alsup of US District Court in San Francisco last week to restart the DACA program, with some modifications, while a legal challenge plays out.

But administration officials hope the judge’s decision will be temporary. Officials said the president’s lawyers are examining whether to appeal his order.

Either way, immigrant rights activists are not counting on legal action to be the ultimate protection for the DACA participants. Several said they believe the only real solution for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants is to persuade Congress to act soon.

Lawyers and directors of community legal services spent Sunday preparing fact sheets and answering calls that have been flooding their offices.

Most of the calls that Hasan Shafiqullah, director of the immigration unit of the Legal Aid Society of New York, said he has been receiving started with the burning questions about whether the DACA program has been restarted: “Is this real? Can I file?”

The answer, for now, he said, is yes. But he is concerned for his clients about another turnabout in the courts. “It’s just the emotional roller coaster that our clients are on,” he said.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.