WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has told congressional leaders that his hard-line immigration priorities must be enacted in exchange for extending protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, many of whom were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Trump's list of demands included overhauling the country's green-card system, a crackdown on unaccompanied minors entering the country, and building his promised wall along the southern border.
Many were policies Democrats have said explicitly are off the table and threaten to derail ongoing negotiations over legislation protecting young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” They had been given a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the country under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which Trump ended last month.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders released by the White House Sunday, Trump said the priorities were the product of a “a bottom-up review of all immigration policies” that he had ordered "to determine what legislative reforms are essential for America's economic and national security.
“These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” he wrote, adding that: “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”
Trump announced last month that he was ending the DACA program, but he gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix before recipients began to lose their status. Trump suggested at the time that he was eager for a deal, telling reporters, “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
He'd also tweeted that if Congress was unwilling to find a fix, he would “revisit this issue!” in six months.
Trump had previously said he wanted a DACA deal to include significant money for border security and eventual funding for his border wall. But the priorities released by the White House went far beyond that.
They included a complete overhaul of the green-card system that would limit family-based green cards to spouses and the minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents as part of an effort to end what is known as “chain migration.”
The White House also said it wants to boost fees at border crossings, hire 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers, make it easier to deport gang members and unaccompanied children, and overhaul the asylum system. And it wants new measures to crack down on “sanctuary cities,” which don't share information with federal immigration authorities, among other proposals.
“These priorities are essential to mitigate the legal and economic consequences of any grants or status to DACA recipients,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters in a Sunday evening conference call. “We're asking that these reforms be included in any legislation concerning the status of DACA recipients.”
But it remained unclear whether the president considers each of the more than a dozen priorities to be non-negotiable or whether the White House sees them more as a starting point for negotiation with members of Congress. Officials on the call notably declined to say whether the president would veto legislation that did not include each and every one of them.
Trump last month appeared to reach at least the broad outlines of a DACA deal with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in which he would agree to extend DACA protections in exchange for a package of border security measures.
While Trump made clear that he was not backing down on his wall demand, he and other administration officials said then that they would be comfortable with wall funding coming later, in a separate legislative vehicle.
In a joint statement Sunday night, Pelosi and Schumer said Trump's list of proposals failed “to represent any attempt at compromise.”
“The Administration can't be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans” they wrote. “The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the President was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the president's “draconian and anti-immigrant principles” threatened to jeopardize “the bi-partisan, bi-cameral progress that has been made to pass a legislative solution that will protect nearly 800,000 Dreamers.”
“It is immoral for the President to use the lives of these young people as bargaining chips in his quest to impose his cruel, anti-immigrant and un-American agenda on our nation,” she added in a statement.
The demands could also divide Republicans, several of whom have introduced legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for less drastic changes.
House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokesman, Doug Andres, said the House immigration working group will review the list and consult with Republican members and the administration.
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