An hour after wishing the world happy Easter, Donald Trump followed up by seeming to call off any lingering hopes of a deal to protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children.
In a series of characteristically aggressive tweets on Sunday morning, the president announced that a deal to secure status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) recipients was “NO MORE”; threatened once again to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Mexico and Canada; and called on congressional Republicans to force through a vote on tougher immigration law.
In his first public appearance with his wife Melania since CBS broadcast an interview with an actor in adult films who says she had an affair with him in 2006, Trump attended an Easter service at a church close to his exclusive members club in southern Florida. The Trumps were married in the church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea, in 2005.
Shortly before the service, the president tweeted: “Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
Although the president is prone to outbursts on Twitter over unsubstantiated and false claims about immigration, and to U-turns on policy, his apparent decision to call off any hope of a deal on Daca is a potentially severe setback to the ongoing debate in Congress over immigration reform.
Trump has previously been open to negotiating with congressional Democrats to protect recipients of protection from deportation under Daca, an Obama-era program that Trump abruptly ended last year.
In exchange, the president has called for funding to build a wall on the southern border between the US and Mexico, along with other hardline immigration measures.
But recent reports have suggested Trump has grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of funding for the wall, which he promised throughout the 2016 campaign would be funded entirely by Mexico. This week he hinted that perhaps the Department of Defense could pay for the wall. Experts said that would be almost impossible.
Although Trump moved to end Daca by executive order, a federal judge has ordered the administration to continue renewing applications. A permanent legislative deal on Daca is seen by Democrats as the foundation for any wider immigration reform.
In calling on Republican leaders in the Senate to “go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW”, the president was referring to Senate rules that require 60 votes for legislation to pass.
Trump has long called for the majority to fall to 51 – a move that has so far been resisted by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Speaking to reporters briefly outside the church in Florida, Trump said Democrats “blew it” on Daca and called on Mexico to ramp up immigration enforcement.
“Mexico has got to help us at the border,” he said. “If they’re not going to help us at the border, it’s a very sad thing between our two countries.”
He also claimed: “A lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of Daca, and we’re going to have to really see.”
To be eligible for Daca, applicants must have lived in the US continually since 15 June 2007 and come to the US before their 16th birthday. Applicants must also either be in school, or have graduated high school, or have been honorably discharged from the US military or coast guard.
The president also accused Mexico of laughing “at our dumb immigration laws,” adding: “They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!”
The US is engaged in ongoing negotiations with Mexico and Canada over the future of Nafta. As recently as last week, officials expressed optimism that a new deal could be reached expeditiously.
Among Trump’s opponents, the Democratic Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison tweeted: “‘NO MORE DACA DEAL’?!! You were never doing a DACA deal. Your actions gave you away: cancelling DACA with no plan, making racist comments about Black/Brown immigrants, ejecting several by bipartisan deals. You didn’t fool anybody.”
Ohio governor John Kasich, a potential Republican challenger to Trump in the 2020 primary, wrote: “A true leader preserves & offers hope, doesn’t take hope from innocent children who call America home. Remember, today is Easter Sunday.”