January 23, 2017 6:01 pm
Updated: January 23, 2017 6:02 pm

Trump admin quickly backs away from pledge of immediate immigration change

President Donald Trump poses for a group photo at a meeting with union leaders at the White House on January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will focus immigration enforcement efforts first on criminal immigrants in the country illegally, his administration said on Monday, offering hope to more than three-quarters of a million young immigrants protected from deportation under the Obama administration.

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Those protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama‘s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have been worried that Trump would follow through on a campaign pledge to immediately end the “illegal amnesty.”

While White House spokesman Sean Spicer, at his first press briefing, did not explicitly rule out action on the program known as DACA, his comments suggest that Trump’s initial policies will be similar to Obama’s. Spicer noted Trump has said his focus would be on immigrants in the country illegally who have a criminal record or pose a threat.

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“That’s where the priority’s going to be, and then we’re going to continue to work through the entire number of folks that are here illegally,” he said.

He added that those immigrants who have overstayed visas will also be among the administration’s enforcement priorities.

Spicer’s comments echo what Trump said in an interview shortly after the election, when he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the focus would on “probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million” criminals living in the country illegally. They also suggest continuity with Obama, who also focused on immigrants with criminal records.

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Obama created the DACA program in 2012. The program allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. The protection and work permit can be renewed.

Information about the program and applications documents remained available online from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security agency that manages DACA.

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Immigration advocates bracing for elimination of the program are pushing members of Congress to protect the young immigrants after failing to do so in the past. The immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, are seen as the most sympathetic group among the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Spicer also said Trump has begun working on how to pay for his other primary immigration promise, a wall at the Mexican border.

“He has already started to work with Congress on the appropriations avenue of that,” Spicer said. “And so he is doing everything he can to direct agencies and Congress to commence with that work as soon as possible.”

Trump has said that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for the fence – a project that could cost billions of dollars. The Mexican government has repeatedly said it would make no payments.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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