WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan majority in Congress supports protections for an estimated 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children and now here illegally, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday.
In a radio interview, Ryan said "there's a sweet spot for this ... a majority in Congress" to protect young immigrants while also bolstering border security.
Ryan's comments come after President Donald Trump said this week he was "fairly close" to an agreement with congressional Democrats that would enshrine protections for young immigrants established by former President Barack Obama.
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said any legislation to protect "Dreamers" would be paired with measures to strengthen border security, which he called the "the root cause" of problems from widespread opioid addiction to violent gangs such as MS-13.
"While we do this (legislative fix for young immigrants) we have a border problem we've got to fix," Ryan told talk show host Vicki McKenna on Milwaukee's WISN-AM.
Conservatives have howled at Trump's proposed deal, but Ryan and other GOP leaders insist there's no formal agreement to enshrine protections for young immigrants. Ryan said he and other GOP leaders "have leverage" to insist that any bill to protect young immigrants includes tough border protections.
"We will not in good conscience fix a symptom of the problem without dealing with the root cause of the problem," he said, adding that many Democrats agree with him.
"I think Democrats get that. They understand that yes, we do need to secure our border; yes, we do have an opioid problem; yes, we do have an MS-13 problem; yes, we do actually agree that we have to do this," Ryan said.
Still, Ryan said partisan politics could complicate the issue.
Democrats "will have to stomach" that an immigration bill is likely to be perceived as a political victory for Trump, adding that it would be "a real mistake" for Democrats to oppose the bill simply because they dislike Trump.
"If you are a politician and you're partisan and you don't want to see him be successful, that will be a tough pill to swallow," Ryan said.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have said they reached agreement with Trump on legislation that would offer eventual citizenship to the immigrants in question. Republicans say talks focused on making permanent the protections offered under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as DACA.