Washington (CNN)White House chief of staff John Kelly suggested Tuesday that some undocumented immigrants were "too afraid" or "too lazy" to sign up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Chief of staff Kelly suggests undocumented immigrants who didn't sign up for DACA were 'too afraid' or 'too lazy'
"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 on Capitol Hill after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to audio posted by The Washington Post.
"The difference between 690 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 added.
Later Tuesday, after another meeting on Capitol Hill, Kelly said some people who were DACA eligible but didn't sign up had reasons but most probably "needed to get off the couch."
The Trump administration proposed a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children in return for a $25 billion investment in border security.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to questions about Kelly's comments by blaming Democrats for the immigration impasse.
"We're focused on actually getting a solution and, frankly, I think if anybody's lazy, it's probably Democrats who aren't showing up to work and aren't actually getting to the table to make a deal on this," Sanders said during her daily briefing.
Democrats who have been part of the negotiations between the White House and Congress to strike a deal on immigration rebuked Kelly's remarks on Twitter.
"From 'sh*thouses' to 'lazy asses,' the White House seems to be only concerned with degrading the very people they claim to want to save," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, who is a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six, wrote. "Shame on those who insist on demonizing hardworking immigrants for political purposes."
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is part of Congressional Hispanic Caucus' leadership, argued, "Dreamers are some of the hardest workers I know. Donald 'Executive Time' Trump could actually stand to learn something from them."
Kelly also told reporters it's not likely that President Donald Trump will extend the March 5 deadline he gave Congress to act on the DACA policy.
"Mr. Obama established the program, and it was considered to be unconstitutional, not based on any law," he told reporters, Politico wrote. "So the extension, I'm not so sure the President, this President, has the authority to extend it."
Kelly added he would not recommend extending the deadline as it would give Congress more time, and Congress doesn't work well without a deadline.
"What makes them act is pressure," Kelly said of Congress, the Post wrote.
The March 5 target date is also up in the air. Trump announced the date last fall, saying his administration would phase out DACA by letting the two-year protections and work permits issued under the program expire without the option to renew them. But a federal judge issued an order stopping the President's plan to phase out DACA, and DHS has since resumed processing applications for renewals for all the recipients who had protections in September.
CNN reported Tuesday that Trump's Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, previously told lawmakers that the administration does not have the authority to extend the DACA program.
The chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, argued that there's a "tiny silver lining" in Kelly's comments in that it removes ambiguity and adds urgency to act.
"I think that puts the right kind of leverage -- not that I agree with the White House strategies, typically -- but that puts the right kind of leverage on the Senate," Lujan Grisham,a New Mexico Democrat, told CNN.
Kelly and McConnell's meeting covered a range of topics, including immigration and keeping the government open, a White House official said.