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Deal or no deal? Texans watch closely as future of DACA hangs in balance

Confusion reigned Thursday morning after President Donald Trump offered conflicting statements on the state of a possible deal with Democratic leadership to extend an Obama-era immigration program and beef up border security.

Republican candidate for president Donald Trump and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.

WASHINGTON – Confusion reigned Thursday morning after President Donald Trump offered conflicting statements on the state of a possible deal with Democratic leadership that would both extend an Obama-era immigration program and beef up border security.

Trump had dinner at the White House Wednesday night with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Later that night, Democrats announced that Trump had agreed to work on a deal to protect hundreds of thousands of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while enacting border security measures that don’t include a physical border wall.

Over the next 12 hours, Trump and Republican leaders appeared to deny any such deal was in the works. But Trump also tweeted support for protecting DACA recipients and later told reporters he and Congress are “fairly close” to a deal. 

“My view, it’s like right now, it’s a bullshit deal," U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, said Thursday morning. "There is no deal until you see it."

Amid the political wrangling, about 800,000 DACA recipients, including more than 124,000 Texans, are anxiously waiting for a resolution on the issue. Started in 2012, DACA awarded a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012. 

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration would phase out the initiative over six months. 

DACA recipient Jose Garibay, a student at St. Edwards University in Austin who was brought to Texas from Mexico at age 4, said learning Wednesday night that a deal had been struck — then seeing the president refute that later — is frustrating. But the bright spot, he said, is that at least discussions are ongoing.

“I really do think it’s setting the scene for what is ahead,” he said. “There’s a lot of negotiating. Last night I was excited to see that there were people working with [Trump] and that he’s been able to have talks. But this morning, yeah, I was disappointed to hear that there was no deal being done.”

Others argue that Trump should stay the course and not stray from his hardline campaign stance at all. In a statement posted Wednesday, Dan Stein, the president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, said any legislation needs to include ramped-up immigration enforcement (such as mandatory use of the electronic employment verification system known as E-Verify), more interior enforcement and construction of a border wall.

"The Democrats have a clear and unified mass immigration agenda,” he said. “The Republicans — who continue to claim to be the party that supports immigration enforcement — have yet to demonstrate any real commitment to the policy goals laid out by the president.”

In Texas alone, more than 124,000 work permits and 110,000 renewals were issued under DACA between the program's inception and March of 2017, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. There are also an additional 57,000 undocumented immigrants here who would qualify if they met the education requirements (a high school diploma or GED) and another 37,000 who would be eligible in the future, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

But Garibay said a deal that benefits young people like him but excludes other undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be fair.

“DACA excludes our parents and other people,” he said. “For me to say, 'fix my status but anybody else who wants to come in here shouldn’t be accepted,' I think that would be very selfish.”

On Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats were struggling to parse the state of negotiations.

"As with everything else with Trump, one never knows from moment to moment where he is going to be," said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. "His most recent tweet this morning is encouraging, but there are many forces trying to keep him from doing the right thing on DACA. I think we just have to keep pushing and we need to not have our DREAMers lose hope that we can get this resolved."

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said he was optimistic a deal could be reached.

"I think that this is an issue that faces Democrats and Republicans and everybody else," Flores said. "I think it's something that we need to look at on a bipartisan basis, so to the extent that [Trump] can help get Democrats at the table to talk about border security, he can also get Republicans to the table about how to deal with DREAMers."

Claire Allbright contributed to this report.

Disclosure: St. Edwards University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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