SEATTLE — Washington state's attorney general is threatening legal action if President Donald Trump ends a program that protects young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
Trump is expected to announce Tuesday his intentions to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program after a six-month delay. The delay would be intended to give Congress time to decide whether it wants to address the status of the so-called Dreamers legislation, according to two people familiar with the president's thinking.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday if Trump follows through on that decision, the Attorney General's Office will file suit to end what he called Trump's "cruel and illegal policy" and defend DACA recipients.
"We have been working closely with legal teams around the country, and we expect to be joined by other states in this action," Ferguson said in a release. “As Attorney General, I will use all the legal tools at my disposal to defend the thousands of Dreamers in Washington state.”
In a July letter, Ferguson joined with 19 other attorneys general urging President Trump to continue the DACA program, and promising to defend the program in court if necessary.
Gov. Jay Inslee said more than 17,000 Dreamers live in Washington state and they will work relentlessly to protect them.
"The cruel action reported to be announced tomorrow by the president threatens the ability of these young men and women -- many of whom know of no other place to call home -- to pursue the incredible opportunities our nation promised them five years ago," Inslee said. “Washington state will consider every option possible to challenge the repeal of DACA, including legal action, coordination with other states and any executive action that could help protect Dreamers."
As of July 31, 2015, more than 790,000 young immigrants had been approved under the program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Trump's decision not finalized
The president, who has been grappling with the issue for months, has been known to change his mind in the past and could still shift course. The plan was first reported by Politico Sunday evening.
Trump has been wrestling for months with what to do with the Obama-era DACA program, which has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the form of two-year, renewable work permits.
The expected move would come as the White House faces a Tuesday deadline set by Republican state officials threatening to sue the Trump administration if the president did not end the program. It also would come as Trump digs in on appeals to his base as he finds himself increasingly under fire, with his poll numbers at near-record lows.
Trump had been personally torn as late as last week over how to deal with what are undoubtedly the most sympathetic immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Many came to the U.S. as young children and have no memories of the countries they were born in.
During his campaign, Trump slammed DACA as illegal "amnesty" and vowed to eliminate the program the day he took office. But since his election, Trump has wavered on the issue, at one point telling The Associated Press that those covered could "rest easy."
Trump had been unusually candid as he wrestled with the decision in the early months of his administration. During a February press conference, he said the topic was "a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have."
"You have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly," he said, adding: "I love these kids."
All the while, his administration continued to process applications and renew DACA work permits, to the dismay of immigration hard-liners.
News of the president's expected decision drew strong reactions from advocates on both sides of the issue.
"IF REPORTS ARE TRUE, Pres Trump better prepare for the civil rights fight of his admin. A clean DREAM Act is now a Nat Emergency #DefendDACA," tweeted New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, tweeted: "After teasing #Dreamers for months with talk of his "great heart," @POTUS slams door on them. Some 'heart'..."
But Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who has called DACA unconstitutional, warned that a delay in dismantling it would amount to "Republican suicide."
"Ending DACA now gives chance 2 restore Rule of Law. Delaying so R Leadership can push Amnesty is Republican suicide," he wrote.
It would be up to members of Congress to pass a measure to protect those who have been covered under the program. While there is considerable support for that among Democrats and moderate Republicans, Congress is already facing a packed fall agenda and has had a poor track record in recent years for passing immigration-related bills.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and a number of other legislators urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA to give them time to come up with a legislative fix.
"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," Ryan told Wisconsin radio station WCLO.
The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap to protect some young immigrants from deportation as they pushed unsuccessfully for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress.
The program protected people in the country illegally who could prove they arrived before they were 16, had been in the United States for several years and had not committed a crime while being here. It mimicked versions of the so-called DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status for young immigrants but was never passed by Congress.