Hopes for US migrant deal fade after Trump ‘s***hole’ controversy

Daca scheme for undocumented migrants ‘probably dead’, US president tweets

Efforts to secure an agreement on Daca, the programme that protects undocumented migrants who came to the United States as children, are fading as the controversy over US president Donald Trump's alleged racist comments continues.

Democrats and Republicans had been hoping to secure an immigration deal for the so-called Dreamers before a deadline for federal funding expires this Friday. But the prospect of securing a deal receded as Democrats reacted with fury to allegations that Mr Trump spoke disparagingly of immigrants from "shithole countries" during a closed-door meeting last Thursday.

Mr Trump, who left Florida for Washington on Monday afternoon after a three-day break at his Mar-a-Lago estate, hit out at Senator Dick Durbin, the democrat who accused Mr Trump of using the word in the meeting. "Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can't get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military," he tweeted as he prepared to leave Florida.

The president also denied he was a racist. Responding to questions from reporters on his way into dinner with House majority leader Kevin McCarthy at the Trump International Golf Course on Sunday evening, he said: “I am not a racist . . . I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”


Controversy over his comments continued through the holiday weekend with two Republicans, and department of homeland security chief Kirstjen Nielsen, who attended the White House meeting, insisting that they did not recall Mr Trump using the word or arguing that he had been grossly misrepresented. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, insisted the president had used the word more than once during the meeting.

American dream

As Americans marked Martin Luther King Day on Monday, Mr Trump tweeted a video honouring the civil rights leader who campaigned against racial inequality before he was assassinated in 1968. Noting that Dr King's "I have a dream" speech has inspired Americans from all backgrounds, Mr Trump said that Martin Luther King jnr's dream was "an American dream".

“It is a dream of the world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from. It is the dream of an America that offers life, dignity and hope to every American regardless of colour or creed. It is the dream of a nation faithful to its founding principle that we are all created equal.”

The continuing outrage over Mr Trump's alleged comments has overshadowed efforts to progress immigration legislation. Less than a week ago the US president hosted a bipartisan meeting of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in the White House at which representatives from both main parties underlined their willingness to progress immigration reform. Democrats are keen to secure agreement on a deal to extend protection to Dreamers, while Mr Trump is seeking funding for his border wall.

But the possibility of a shared approach to the issue has been derailed by the controversy over Mr Trump’s alleged vulgar comments in the White House on Thursday.

Mr Trump tweeted over the weekend that Daca was “probably dead”, adding that “Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military”. He also appeared to reiterate his support for abolishing the current visa lottery system.

“I, as president, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries!,” he said.

The current programme that funds the federal government is due to expire at midnight this Friday, giving Democrats some leverage to demand a deal as they could force a government shutdown.

An estimated 800,000 Dreamers were given protection under the Daca act introduced by president Barack Obama. Mr Trump announced he was abolishing the scheme in October, giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent