By James Oliphant and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will not necessarily insist that funding for a border wall with Mexico be included in legislation to address protections for children brought to the United States illegally, a senior aide said on Tuesday.
The comments from White House legislative director Marc Short were welcomed by Senator Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat who has been working for the past 16 years to legislate protections for the so-called Dreamer children.
“That’s an important position because we cannot make a 2,200 mile wall (3,540 km) a condition for passing the Dream Act and we’ve been very clear from the start,” Durbin said in a brief Senate hallway interview.
Durbin added that Democrats are willing to work with the White House and congressional Republicans on other border security measures as part of the legislation, however.
Short, speaking to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, also said the White House will lay out its priorities for a fix for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the next couple of weeks.
While he said Trump remained committed to building a wall, a physical barrier along the southwest border, but said “whether or not that is specifically part of a DACA package or a different legislative package, I am not going to prejudge here today.”
Short’s comments could clear away a major stumbling to legislation to help DACA recipients, known as Dreamers. Democrats have insisted they will not allow border funding to be part of any legislation and would likely have the votes in the Senate to block a provision to which they objected.
Furthermore, few Republican senators stand firmly behind the construction of a physical wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, as Trump promised during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump said last week he was ending an Obama-era program that protects from the deportation of immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children, but he gave U.S. lawmakers six months to act on the issue.
The move put the onus on Congress to address the nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers now facing uncertainty about their status in a country that for many is the only one they have known.
“I don’t want to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible,” Short said.
Short’s comments suggested Trump may want to put the politically thorny Dreamers issue behind him, even if it weakens his leverage on securing funding for a border wall, which was a major campaign promise.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)