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Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro On DACA And Immigration

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump made what looked like an abrupt turn on immigration this week. He'd campaigned on that promise to build a wall and to end an Obama-era program that protected people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. About 800,000 people are protected by DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Now it appears the president may have cut a deal with Democrats to make those protections permanent - without demanding funding for a border wall. Of course, immigration is a top issue for Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat. He's vice chair of the Congressional, Hispanic Caucus and he joins us from his district in San Antonio.

Mr. Castro, thanks so much for being with us.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Based on what you've heard, do you like the sound of this deal?

SIMON: Well, I think I'm hopeful that ultimately we can reach an agreement to make sure that those 800,000 hardworking young people who have been here a very long time and who are essentially Americans except on paper, as President Obama said, will be able to stay. And, you know, we've still got a long way to go to negotiate that kind of agreement. But the meeting was a positive sign. And so we'll see where it goes from here.

SIMON: I'll be this blunt - do you trust President Trump on this?

CASTRO: You know, I've said before that on any controversial issue, you tend to get four or five different answers from the White House depending on who you talk to. Sometimes, two or three of those answers are from the president himself. And so you know, we go into this with open eyes. But at the same time, I mean, we also face the reality that Democrats don't have a Democratic president. We don't control the Senate or the House, so we are the minority party. And on a big issue like this one, where you have the future of 800,000 people on the line, we've got to be willing to at least sit down and listen and talk to the other side about this.

SIMON: Do you have a concern that President Trump might use his position on DACA, as it's evolving, as what amounts to a bargaining chip to get what he's wanted all along, which is to at least begin to build a wall.

CASTRO: Yeah, I'm concerned. And I know a lot of other Democrats - and I'm sure some Republicans - are concerned that the president may want to leverage DACA relief to build a wall. And, you know, I'm not somebody who's willing to trade the futures of these 800,000 people for a wall across the United States of America.

SIMON: Should they have amnesty?

CASTRO: Well, I think that, you know, the idea of amnesty from 1986 was kind of a blanket allowance of people to stay with no conditions. I think that's what people think of as amnesty. This would not be that. Basically, there would be certain conditions that they would have to meet in order to be able to move towards a path to citizenship. So I wouldn't call it amnesty. I would basically call it allowing them to do what they've been doing, which is basically live as Americans. Some of these folks came here when they were 2 years old and didn't realize that they were undocumented until they tried to get a driver's license or apply to college, for example. And so they've essentially been living as Americans in every way except having citizenship.

SIMON: Let me ask this finally, Mr. Castro - the night that President Trump and Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi were reportedly having Chinese food at the White House, you were at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The president was not invited, which I gather is unusual. If he stands by his promises on DACA, will he be invited to the next one?

CASTRO: (Laughter) Well, we've got about a year to make that decision. But yeah, I mean, look, it was the first time in CACI's history, its 40-year history, that we didn't invite the sitting president. And as I said in the room that night, I think people know why. From the way that he started his campaign calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals; his pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio; his canceling of the DACA program, which will affect so many young lives - the president has really used the Latino community to basically achieve fearmongering in this country and boast his own political prospects.

SIMON: Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, thanks very much for being with us.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.