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Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’

 

The Trump administration released a list of hard-line immigration principles Oct. 8, which could threaten to derail a deal in Congress to protect “dreamers” from deportation. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration released a list of hard-line immigration principles late Sunday that threaten to derail a deal in Congress to allow hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally.

The administration’s wish list includes the funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a crackdown on the influx of Central American minors and curbs on federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” according to a document distributed to Congress and obtained by The Washington Post.

The demands were quickly denounced by Democratic leaders in Congress who had hoped to forge a deal with President Trump to protect younger immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Trump announced plans last month to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era program that had provided two-year work permits to the dreamers that Trump called “unconstitutional.”

About 690,000 immigrants are enrolled in DACA, but their work permits are set to begin expiring in March. Trump had met last month with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and agreed to try to strike a deal, worrying immigration hawks who feared that Trump would support a bill that would allow dreamers to gain full legal status without asking for significant border security measures in return.

The list released by the administration, however, would represent a major tightening of immigration laws. Cuts to legal immigration also are included. And, while Democrats have called for a path to citizenship for all dreamers, a group estimated at more than 1.5 million, a White House aide said Sunday night the administration is “not interested in granting a path to citizenship” in a deal to preserve the DACA program.


President Trump prepares to leave for Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

“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,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement Sunday evening. “We told the President at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures … but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

In a conference call with reporters, White House aides described the proposals as necessary to protect public safety and jobs for American-born workers, which was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign. The president has moved to tighten border security through executive orders, including curbs on immigration and refugees from some majority-Muslim nations and an increase in deportations.

The number of immigrants who have attempted to enter the country illegally across the Mexican border has decreased sharply since Trump took office.

Democrats had hoped that Trump, who had equivocated over the DACA program before deciding to terminate it in the face of a legal challenge from Texas, would be open to crafting a narrow legislative deal to protect the dreamers. But White House aides emphasized that they expect Congress to include the principles released Sunday in any package deal, a nonstarter for Democrats and some moderate Republicans.

The status of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants are up in the air with the Trump administration’s decision to phase-out DACA and pursue immigration legislation instead. Here’s a look at the “dreamers” who will be affected. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

“These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” Trump wrote in a letter to Congress. “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”

Immigration hard-liners expressed support for the administration’s immigration proposals. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) praised the administration for “a serious proposal” and said that “we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”

Trump had said several times over the past month that he did not expect a DACA deal to include funding for a border wall, emphasizing that the money could be included in separate legislation. But ensuring funding for the wall, which is projected to cost more than $25 billion, is the top priority on the list. White House aides declined to specify during the call how much money the president would expect from Congress.

Despite the White House’s calls for the complete construction of a southern border wall and the support of some ardent conservatives in Congress, several GOP lawmakers from border states have expressed skepticism about such projects in the past. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the second-ranking Republican, has introduced legislation that would fund only partial wall construction and mostly renovations of existing barriers.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent sparring partner of Trump’s, has also cast doubt on building a wall, saying that such barriers would require accounting for the flow of rivers that run north and south across the two countries.

Others, including Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), whose south Texas district includes more than 800 miles of border, has proposed using technology — not brick and mortar — to track the border for potentially illegal crossings.

In its principles, the Trump administration also is proposing changes aimed at reducing the flow of unaccompanied minors from Central America, tens of thousands of whom have entered the United States illegally in recent years. Immigrant rights groups have said the minors, as well as women and families, have fled gang violence and other dangers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Under current law, minors who arrive from noncontiguous nations are afforded greater protections than those from Mexico and Canada, but the Trump administration is proposing to treat them all the same in a bid to be able to deport the minors more quickly. Such proposals will probably face fierce resistance from Democrats and human rights groups.

The administration also has sought to increase pressure on sanctuary cities, which refuse, in some cases, to cooperate with federal immigration agents seeking personal information about undocumented immigrants who’ve committed other crimes in their jurisdictions. Under the immigration priorities released Sunday, the administration is proposing that Congress withhold federal grants to such jurisdictions and that it clarify the authority of state and local jurisdictions to honor detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“There is no justification for releasing a public safety threat back into the public,” said Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE. “We will not stop illegal immigration unless we stop the pull factors that are driving it. … Entering this country illegally is a crime but there are no consequences for sneaking past the border or overstaying visas.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that “Congress should reject this warped, anti-immigrant policy wish list. The White House wants to use dreamers as bargaining chips to achieve the administration’s deportation and detention goals.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a longtime advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, in an interview called Trump’s proposals “an extension of the white supremacist agenda.” He said it is “fanciful thinking that you can sit down with a man who has based his presidential aspirations and has never wavered from his xenophobic positions. I never understood — I just never got it, how you go from Charlottesville and white supremacists to reaching an agreement with him.”

Gutierrez renewed calls for Democrats to withhold support for an upcoming bill that would raise the debt limit or extend government spending, saying that “if you want a budget with Democratic votes, then it’s got to have some Democratic priorities.”

Trump aides said the administration’s priorities are imperative because legalizing the dreamers without fixing other parts of the immigration system would allow the problem to continue. The last major legislative overhaul to the nation’s immigration laws came in 1986 and included a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, but more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the country now.

The White House’s list of immigration principles will move the debate over the fate of the dreamers toward the prospect of broader comprehensive reform. Efforts to forge a comprehensive bill failed under the past two presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

During his campaign, Trump had threatened to end DACA on his first day in office, but he equivocated for months, suggesting that the decision over the fate of the dreamers was among the most difficult he faced. After Texas and several other states announced plans to sue the administration over the program, Trump moved to end it but said he would hold off the most drastic measures for six months to give Congress time to find a legislative solution.

“We would expect Congress to include all the reforms in any package that addresses the status of the DACA recipients,” said one White House aide on the conference call who was not authorized to speak on the record. “Other views had their fair day in the democratic process.”

Noting that the Republicans swept the White House and both chambers of Congress in November, the aide added: “The American public voted for the reforms included in this package.

In a list of “principles” laid out in documents released by the White House, the Trump administration also pressed for a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the United States, many of them from Central America.

The plan, which was delivered to leaders in Congress on Sunday night, drew a swift rebuke from Democrats, who are seeking a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump ended last month.

“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,” said House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

“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,” they said in a statement.

The Trump administration wants the wish list to guide immigration reform in Congress and accompany a bill to replace DACA, the Obama-era program that protected nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” from deportation and allowed them to secure work permits.

If enacted, the White House priorities could result in the deportation of Dreamers’ parents.

“These priorities are essential to mitigate the legal and economic consequences of any grant of status to DACA recipients,” Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, told reporters on a conference call. The White House made clear it would not be pushing for Dreamers to achieve U.S. citizenship, only legal status, in a potential deal.

Trump told Congress it had six months to come up with legislation to help Dreamers, who are a fraction of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of whom are Hispanic.

The documents call for tighter standards for those seeking U.S. asylum, denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities” that serve as refuges for illegal immigrants, and a requirement that employers use an electronic verification system known as “E-Verify” to keep illegal immigrants from securing jobs.

HARD LINE

Trump campaigned for president on a pledge to toughen immigration policies and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He vowed repeatedly that Mexico would pay for the wall, but began prodding Congress earlier this year to approve funding. Mexico has said it will not pay for the wall.

Trump’s suggestion after a meeting with Schumer and Pelosi that wall funding would not have to be part of a DACA fix alarmed some of his supporters.

The White House sees the wall as a priority but has indicated that it could be established as part of a DACA bill or through other legislative avenues. Administration officials said that legislation that did not include all of the priorities on the list would not necessarily trigger a presidential veto.

Republicans in Congress have introduced several bills that include aspects of Trump’s ideas, but many Democrats and immigration groups see the proposals as too harsh.

“The Trump administration has put forth a serious proposal to address the enforcement of our immigration laws and border security,“ said Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte in a statement. ”We cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”

The White House’s wish list targets the flow of unaccompanied minors into the United States. It would require such children to be treated the same, regardless of their countries of origin “so long as they are not victims of human trafficking and can be safely returned home or removed to safe third countries,” the White House documents said.

It would expand the list of “inadmissible aliens” to include members of gangs, those who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, and former spouses and children of drug and human traffickers if they receive benefits from such behavior.

The plan also seeks to reduce the number of people who overstay their visas and reform how green cards that establish legal permanent residents are granted.

Trump’s White House has so far not been able to achieve a major legislative victory, casting doubt on the potential for a breakthrough on immigration reform, which Republican and Democratic presidents have tried before without success.

Since Trump took office in January, his fellow Republicans have failed to repeal and replace former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and a White House plan for tax reform needs more support.

 

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