A U.S. official told Congress on Tuesday it would be "rational" to legislate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, but within hours the administration backtracked, saying his comments did not state the views of President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration last month ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which began in 2012 under former President Barack Obama. The program allowed nearly 800,000 so-called "Dreamers" to work legally in the United States without being deported. The policy was aimed at young people who came to the United States illegally as children.
The administration said it ended DACA because Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by creating the policy without congressional approval. Trump called on Congress to enact a law to protect DACA recipients, and last month angered some fellow Republicans by negotiating with congressional Democratic leaders on possible legislation.
At a Senate hearing, Republican Senator John Kennedy asked Homeland Security official Michael Dougherty about Dreamers. "Should they be allowed to stay?"
"Under a rational bill these individuals would be able to become lawful permanent residents with a pathway to citizenship," Dougherty, assistant Department of Homeland Security secretary for border, immigration and trade policy, responded.
"So the president believes they should be allowed to stay," Kennedy responded.
"The president, yes, would like to work with Congress to get a solution," Dougherty said, declining to give further specifics on conditions under which Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country.
Hours later, DHS moved to distance the administration from Dougherty's testimony.
"Mr. Dougherty was not stating administration policy or the President's views," said Tyler Q. Houlton, the DHS deputy press secretary. "The White House will be issuing its priorities for immigration reform in the coming week."
The Trump administration has sent conflicting signals on the immigration issue, a focus of Trump's 2016 campaign. Candidate Trump promised to end DACA and ultimately fulfilled that promise, but he has also expressed sympathy for the young immigrants it benefited.