WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he will take “strong action” on immigration Wednesday, The tweet follows a week in which the president has criticized Democrats for not having a fix to DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in the recent spending bill. He declared as “dead” the program that protects immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children and pressed Congress to pass legislation to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump’s comments came as the U.S. Department of Justice moved to establish first-ever quotas for immigration judges aimed at speeding up cases and clearing a backlog.
Trump said in September he would terminate in March the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program instituted by the executive order of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, but gave the Republican-controlled Congress until March 6 to replace it.
Congress failed to meet that deadline, but the sunset of DACA is being challenged in lawsuits, and the government is continuing to process applications until it is settled by a legal ruling. Trump had offered to extend DACA protections, tied to a sweeping set of changes to immigration laws, but it was subsequently rejected by lawmakers.
“DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon,” the Republican president said in a Twitter post.
Trump also urged Congress to “pass tough laws and build the WALL,” referring to a U.S.-Mexico border wall he has championed as a way to curb illegal immigration and the flow of drugs.
In a move aimed at speeding deportations, the Department of Justice sent an email on Friday to federal immigration judges telling them their job performance would be evaluated based on how quickly they close cases.
Judges will be required to complete at least 700 cases a year and have fewer than 15 percent of their decisions appealed and remanded back, according to Dana Marks, spokeswoman for the National Association of Immigration Judges.
Another metric demands that 85 percent of removal cases for detained immigrants be completed within three days of a hearing on the merits of the case. The new policy is expected to take effect on Oct. 1.
A growing backlog of immigration cases reached 687,000 in March, according to a Reuters analysis of court records, and caused asylum seekers to wait years to present their cases.
Amiena Khan, executive vice president of the immigration judges’ union, said the new rules threatened to interfere with judicial independence. “It’s going to create havoc within the courts,” said Khan, who also serves as an immigration judge in New York. “The integrity of the entire process is at risk.”
On Monday, senior administration officials told reporters that legislation was being prepared aimed at helping speed deportations of some illegal immigrants. They did not provide a timetable for submitting it to Congress and did not say whether provisions to help DACA recipients would be included.
No immigration deal has materialized in the Republican-controlled Congress despite months of efforts. The Senate considered several immigration proposals in February but rejected all of them, including bipartisan bills and legislation tailored to Trump’s requirements.
Democrats have blamed Trump for the tenuous status of the DACA program that shielded hundreds of thousands of immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” from deportation and gave them work permits.
Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a telephone interview: “After the experience of giving this president six different bipartisan options and having him reject them all … I don’t believe we have a reliable partner” in negotiations that are now dormant.
In the past, Trump had said he was open to a deal with congressional Democrats in which they would support funding for the border wall in exchange for protection for the Dreamers. Last month he objected to, but ultimately signed, a spending bill that did not address DACA recipients.
“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote on Twitter after receiving the bill.
Trump has been frustrated that Congress has not turned over funding to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The spending measure included $1.6 billion for six months of work on the project, but he had sought $25 billion for it.
Over the weekend, Trump indicated that the time had passed, writing on Twitter: “‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
The mention of a caravan apparently referred to a group of 1,500 men, women and children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who are traveling in a “refugee caravan” organized by the U.S.-based immigration advocacy group Pueblo sin Fronteras, whose Spanish name means People Without Borders. They say some but not all of them will seek asylum if they reach the United States.