White House chief of staff John Kelly

White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Some immigrants may have been “too afraid” or “too lazy” to sign up for the Obama-era program that offered protection from deportation, White House chief of staff John Kelly said as he defended President Donald Trump’s proposal on immigration.

In remarks to reporters, Kelly described Trump’s plan, which would provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people — more than Democrats had sought. He noted extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was “beyond what anyone could have imagined.”

“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” he said. “The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”

Kelly spoke as lawmakers have deadlocked in an effort to reach a bipartisan deal on protecting from deportation recipients of the program, known as “Dreamers.” Barring a last-minute agreement — which seems unlikely — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his chamber will begin considering the issue, a debate that GOP leaders expect to start next week.

Kelly said Trump would likely reject an effort to pass a short-term extension for the program, which is set to expire March 5.

Kelly said lawmakers need a deadline to force action.

“What makes them act is pressure,” he said.

In exchange for making citizenship a possibility, Trump wants $25 billion for border security, including money to build parts of his wall along the U.S.-Mexico boundary. He also wants to curb legal immigration, restricting the relatives that legal immigrants could sponsor for citizenship and ending a lottery that distributes visas to people from diverse places like Africa.

“I can’t imagine men and women of good will who begged this president to solve the problem of DACA” would oppose Trump’s proposal, said Kelly. He added, “Right now, the champion of all people who are DACA is Donald Trump.”

A court ruling earlier this month also has blunted the deadline. A federal judge has indefinitely blocked Trump from terminating DACA’s protections for the so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children and are living here illegally. The program shields them from deportation and gives them the right to hold jobs.

Still, many lawmakers are uneasy about what might happen to the Dreamers after March 5, and Democrats are using that uncertainty as leverage to help force a deal.

Trump said last September that he was ending the DACA program, complaining that Obama had overstepped his legal authority in creating it.

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