Fifteen states and the District of Columbia sued Wednesday to try to revive DACA, the 2012 deportation amnesty for young adult illegal immigrants, saying President Trump’s decision to phase out the program amounted to illegal discrimination against Mexicans.
The novel legal attack was launched even as Mr. Trump said he was eager to work with Democratic leaders in Congress to replace Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a legally questionable executive branch action — with a more permanent legislative solution.
Mr. Trump said he thinks they can strike a deal so Dreamers facing the possibility of deportation “don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
He spoke after meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who just hours earlier called the president cowardly and said his DACA decision was “brainless.”
“Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I,” Mr. Trump said aboard Air Force One. “And I said if we can get something to happen, we’re going to sign it and we’re going to make a lot of happy people.”
Mr. Trump’s decision announced Tuesday to phase out DACA rather than fight an uphill legal battle continued to roil the political scene.
Pro-DACA rallies were held in cities across the country, while House Democrats in Washington tried to force a quick vote on the Dream Act — a bill to grant immediate protection and a long-term path to citizenship to illegal immigrants granted temporary immunity under DACA.
“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a despicable act of political cowardice,” Mrs. Pelosi said ahead of the effort.
House Republicans blocked Democrats’ demand for a vote, but Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Congress will have to act before the six-month phaseout is complete.
Still, he dismissed Democrats’ demand for a “clean” Dream Act, saying any legislation will have to step up enforcement to try to prevent more waves of illegal immigration.
“This is a dilemma that in large part stems from the fact that it is a symptom of a larger problem,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s only reasonable and fitting that we also address the root cause of the problem, which is borders that are not sufficiently controlled.”
Mr. Trump also said he wants border security to be part of the deal.
“I think Congress really wants to do this,” Mr. Trump said. “I’d like to see something where we have good border security, and we have a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore because, obviously, as you know, before, it was not a legal deal. It was a deal that wouldn’t have held up and didn’t hold up.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said such a deal is possible.
“We need to do two things: take care of the Dream Act kids and secure our border,” Mr. Graham told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “If you deported them, you’d hurt the economy. But if you gave them legal status and didn’t address border security, you’re incentivizing more illegal immigration. So you have to do two things at once. You have to deal with the plight of the Dream Act kids, but you also have to start making a down payment on fixing the broken immigration system.”
Democrat-led states hope to head off the end of DACA altogether.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York and other states said DACA has provided important humanitarian protection for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
The states said that since 78 percent of DACA recipients are Mexican, revoking the policy is proof of the president’s antipathy toward Mexico, which they trace back to his campaign statements.
The states also said that by refusing to rule out using data taken from DACA applicants to assist in some deportations, the government is violating illegal immigrants’ due process rights.
“These young people came to the United States through no fault of their own,” said D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine. “Along with my fellow attorneys general, I will stand by these hardworking young people to ensure they are treated fairly and feel safe in the only place they’ve ever known as home.”
In addition to New York and the District of Columbia, the challengers were Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, explaining the need for a phaseout Tuesday, said President Obama had overstepped the powers of the presidency and that balance needed to be restored.
A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday that in fighting to preserve DACA, the states are defending a distortion of the Constitution’s system of government.
“As the attorney general said yesterday: ‘No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our republic than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law.’ While the plaintiffs in today’s lawsuits may believe that an arbitrary circumvention of Congress is lawful, the Department of Justice looks forward to defending this administration’s position,” said spokesman Devin O’Malley.
The Democrats’ lawsuit will face a number of hurdles. It will have to show that the states have standing to sue and make a case that the administration’s actions have crossed legal lines.
Another complication is the Obama administration’s stance that DACA didn’t grant an enforceable legal right to any illegal immigrants.
Still, several judges have ruled that the Department of Homeland Security violated its own procedural rules in revoking DACA status for illegal immigrants, suggesting at least some judges are eager to wade into the thorny legal battle.