White House discussing whether DACA deadline can be moved

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(CNN) — The Trump administration is looking to buy itself time on a decision on a popular program that protects young undocumented immigrants, especially amid the extensive destruction of Hurricane Harvey.

The White House is looking at whether the state attorneys general who are pushing for a decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be willing to extend their deadline of September 5 for action from Trump, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Asked Thursday about the latest on the program, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the administration was still mulling options.

“In terms of DACA, echoing again on what Tom (Bossert) said earlier, final decision on that front has not been made and when it is, we will certainly inform everybody in this room,” Sanders said.

She also wouldn’t say whether a decision would come by the ultimatum deadline.

“I’m not going to get ahead of something and be presumptuous when a decision hasn’t been made,” Sanders said. “It would be disingenuous for me to create a false timeline … That hasn’t been fully reviewed and vetted and decided.”

Meanwhile in a sign that conversations were heating up, a source familiar said Department of Homeland Security officials were called into meetings at the White House Thursday afternoon.

There is concern about the optics of announcing a decision amid the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, as well as an already packed legislative month ahead for Congress.

“Harvey has changed the calculus on a lot of this stuff,” a source familiar with the deliberations said.

Trump is weighing his options on the protections for the nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants under DACA, which gave young undocumented immigrants who had come to the United States as children the chance to work and study in the country without fear of deportation.

One source told CNN that White House chief of staff John Kelly is among those officials advocating for such a delay to make a decision on what to do with the Obama-era program. Kelly has long been supportive of the program in his former position as head of the Department of Homeland Security, which administers DACA.

But Kelly has also warned Congress that legal advisers believe the states’ court challenge would have a good chance of ending the program, urging lawmakers to come up with their own fix.

The sources did not say whether Trump will listen to Kelly on the issue, as the President has come under tremendous pressure from inside the White House and from outside groups to end the DACA program. Since Trump took office and allowed the program to continue, his far right base has agitated for him to keep a campaign promise to end it.

Sources on the Hill increasingly believe Trump is leaning toward ending renewals and new applicants to the program, and a source familiar has said the White House is considering that option.

Hill sources say they don’t expect a DACA fix to emerge right away when Congress reconvenes next month, even if Trump scraps the program immediately before they return. But any end to the program would put pressure on both sides to reach a compromise.

Worry about optics

The administration has pushed to come up with a solution by the deadline, holding meetings with Justice Department and Homeland Security officials on it. But the White House would prefer to have the nation’s attention focused on Harvey and cleanup and recovery efforts rather than a DACA decision right now, according to a source familiar with deliberations.

According to the source, they realize the optics of making a call on DACA would be unhelpful. In addition, the legislative calendar is already packed for September and the White House is not eager to pile more on top of that.

The administration also doesn’t want its DACA decision to be executed purely via executive order, the source said — they are hoping for some kind of legislative solution.

Furthermore, as the program is administered by DHS, it would fall to the agency to explain and handle the implementation of any Trump decision at the very time it is coordinating Hurricane Harvey clean-up.

As the White House deliberates on its path forward, agency officials have largely been in the dark on what the plans may be, meaning any preparations for a decision have had to be speculative.

A fluid deadline?

The September 5 date was set in an ultimatum by 10 state attorneys general, led by Texas, to put pressure on the administration to sunset DACA. But inaction by Trump doesn’t necessarily mean that the program will disappear on that date.

The officials aren’t threatening a new lawsuit against DACA — yet. At issue is Texas v. US, a longtime case challenging a similar program to DACA that would have protected parents and an expansion of DACA. That program was blocked by the courts, never taking effect.

The Texas case went before the Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That sent it back to lower courts.

The case has essentially been on pause since November to allow for the new administration to take over. It’s been stayed several times since then, at the request of attorneys.

In July, Texas asked the court to continue a stay on the case until September 5, “to allow the parties additional time to attempt to resolve this matter without further litigation.”

The legal maneuvering gives the administration a few ways to buy some time. If they cannot convince Texas to agree to another stay, there still will be filings back and forth about whether the lawsuit can even be amended to include DACA, and the Justice Department could fight Texas’ effort and try to force them to file a fresh lawsuit.

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