President Donald Trump has said a programme that protects immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children is "probably dead", casting a cloud over already tenuous negotiations just days before a deadline on a government funding deal that Democrats have tied to immigration.
At issue is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme created by President Barack Obama to shield hundreds of thousands of these individuals, known as Dreamers, from deportation.
Mr Trump, who has taken a hard stance against illegal immigration, announced last year that he will end the programme unless Congress comes up with a solution by March.
"Daca is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military," the Republican president tweeted.
"I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on Merit. No more Lotteries! #America First."
DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2018
I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries! #AMERICA FIRST— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2018
Republicans and Democrats were already at odds over funding the government, and the negotiations became more complicated after Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass a government funding bill, insisted immigration be included.
Government funding expires midnight on Friday without a deal in place, and some government functions will begin to go dark.
Further disturbing the talks are comments by Mr Trump during an Oval Office meeting in which he questioned the need to admit more Haitians to the US, along with Africans from "shithole" countries, according to people briefed on the conversation.
He also said he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.
The White House has not denied that Mr Trump said the word "shithole".
The president also rejected as insufficient an immigration deal drafted by the bipartisan group of politicians who attended that meeting.
The deal had included a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers that would take up to 12 years, as well as 1.6 billion US dollars for border security, including Mr Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border.
Mr Trump’s staunchest supporters consider any route to citizenship for the Dreamers to be an amnesty for lawbreakers.
The president has said any deal must include funding for the wall as well as changes to make the immigration system a more merit-based structure.
The debate over Daca’s fate came as politicians were forced to answer questions about whether Mr Trump is racist.
Representative Mia Love, the first black female Republican in Congress and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, denounced Mr Trump’s comments as racist and called on him to apologise.
"I think that would show real leadership," she said on CNN’s State Of The Union on Sunday.
Senator David Perdue, a Republican who was at Thursday’s Oval Office meeting, insisted on Sunday that Mr Trump did not say "shithole" in referring to African countries.
"I am telling you that he did not use that word. And I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation," Mr Perdue said on ABC’s This Week.
He said Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, were mistaken in indicating earlier that that was the case.