Trump said Tuesday his administration will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that offers protection to young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.
He ordered a phased-out dismantling of DACA that gives a gridlocked Congress six months to decide the fate of these immigrants.
It is not clear whether Republican lawmakers, who have struggled for years to agree on an immigration reform package and who face a series of other high-stakes deadlines this fall, will be able to score a legislative solution by March.
Trump did better with Hispanics in last November’s presidential election than most expected, avoiding a catastrophic loss with the voting bloc despite his hard-line rhetoric on immigration and his signature promise to build a southern border wall.
But the decision to end DACA could prove a watershed moment.
The DACA program allowed nearly 800,000 young men and women, often called "dreamers", who had entered the country as illegal immigrants, to stay in the US.
Republican strategist Luis Alvarado says Trump's decision on DACA “is the topic of conversation in every Latino household.”
"If this energy can be corralled and focused against Republicans in the 2018 elections, Republicans are going to suffer great losses,” Alvarado said.
Last week, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan had urged Trump not to end the program.
On Tuesday, Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also criticized the president for ending DACA.
Meanwhile, centrist GOP lawmakers, including Representative Carlos Curbelo, are pushing a legislative fix to curb what is seen as the disastrous effects of Trump's immigration policy.
Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which bills itself as a nonpartisan public policy organization with a Latino focus, says the GOP does “not hold any statewide office because of the effervescency against Republicans in California. That is exactly the danger Republicans face with Donald Trump at the helm.”
“He has turbo-charged the Latino community against him,” Gonzalez said.
However, there is the chance that Trump’s move will resonate with his base deeply enough to offset any losses among Hispanic voters.
The decision to end DACA is the fulfillment of a campaign pledge. On the trail, Trump referred to DACA as an “illegal amnesty” that had to be ended — though he softened that rhetoric soon after being inaugurated.
Groups that support reduced immigration welcomed Trump’s decision to end DACA. Still, polls show broad sympathy for DACA beneficiaries.
An NBC News-Survey Monkey poll released last week indicated that 64 percent of American adults support the program, compared to just 30 percent who oppose it.