WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday said deporting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought into the country illegally is "not in our nation's interest," as he and President Donald Trump prepared to huddle with top Democrats to try to hash out a legislative fix.
Speaking in an AP Newsmaker interview, Ryan said he believes the president "made the right call" when he announced he would give Congress six months to figure out what to do with former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before dismantling it. DACA has given nearly 800,000 young people protection from deportation and the right to work legally in the country.
"I wanted him to give us time. I didn't want this to be rescinded on Day One and create chaos," Ryan said, arguing the time would allow Congress to "come up with the right kind of consensus and compromise to fix this problem."
As part of that effort, Ryan will be meeting with the House's top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, on Wednesday evening, before Pelosi heads to the White House for a dinner with Trump and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. The leaders were expected to discuss DACA, among issues, according to congressional aides and the White House. Trump also met with a group of moderate members of Congress from both parties Wednesday afternoon, where he urged them to come up with a bipartisan solution to protect DACA recipients, who have become known as "Dreamers."
The get-togethers come amid new signs that there may be room for compromise on the thorny issue of immigration, which has been vexing lawmakers for years. Trump, who was deeply disappointed by Republicans' failure to pass a health care overhaul, has shown a new willingness to work with Democrats in recent weeks, despite railing against them as "obstructionist."
Last week Trump infuriated many in his party when he reached a three-month agreement with Schumer and Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling, keep the government running and speed relief to states affected by recent hurricanes. Both Pelosi and a top White House staffer also indicated Tuesday that they were open to a compromise on border security to expedite legislation protecting DACA recipients.
Trump urged lawmakers gathered to discuss tax reform not to forget the immigration issue as they dig into the fall agenda.
"We don't want to forget DACA. And it's already been a week and a half and people don't talk about it as much," he said, adding: "We want to see if we can do something in a bipartisan fashion so that we can solve the DACA problem and other immigration problems. So we'll be discussing that today."
Trump has also been pushing Democrats to join him in overhauling the nation's tax code and making a major investment in infrastructure spending, despite chilly relations in the first months of his administration.
"More and more we're trying to work things out together," Trump said, calling the development a "positive thing" for both parties.
"If you look at some of the greatest legislation ever passed, it was done on a bipartisan manner. And so that's what we're going to give a shot," he said.
One issue of contention has been whether the president will demand funding for his promised southern border wall in exchange for signing DACA legislation. Democrats have been adamant in their opposition to the wall, but Pelosi indicated Tuesday she would be open to new border security measures of some kind as part of a deal.
"We always want border stuff, so that's not a problem," Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.
White House legislative director Marc Short said Tuesday that, while the president remained committed to the wall, funding for it did not necessarily need to be linked directly to the "Dreamers" issue.
"I don't want us to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible," Short said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said the president also told the group directly that he'd be comfortable signing DACA legislation without wall money as long as it included "some sort of border security."
"He said, 'We don't have to have the wall on this bill,'" Cuellar recalled. "He said, 'We can put that somewhere else, like appropriations or somewhere.' But that was very significant because a lot of us don't want to tie DACA and the wall. We're not going to split the baby on that one. So he himself said, 'We're not going to put the wall tied into this. We can do it - and then he looks up - put it in another bill."
Ryan, meanwhile, said he's been having conversations with members to come up with a compromise that is likely to include border security enhancements.
"I do believe that kicking these 800,000 kids out to countries that they've probably not been to since they were toddlers in countries that speak languages they may not even know is not in our nation's interest, he said. "So I do believe that there's got to be a solution to this problem. But at the same time, I think it's only reasonable — it makes perfect common sense — that we deal with the problem that was the root cause of this, which is we do not have operational control of our borders."
Ryan added, "This is a broken system that needs to be fixed."
Prior to becoming House speaker, Ryan had a long record of pushing for immigration reform, including supporting a path to eventual citizenship for all 11 million immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S. illegally, and particularly those referred to as "Dreamers." Asked Wednesday, though, Ryan declined to say whether he still believed those covered by DACA should have the opportunity to attain eventual citizenship.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj