Originally published by Politico
The White House plans to present an immigration reform plan to Congress that would satisfy a key Democratic demand — offering a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — in exchange for dramatic restrictions on immigration going forward and a $25 billion fund for border security.
In a call with Republican Hill staffers Thursday afternoon, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller outlined a one-page framework that he said represented “a compromise position that we believe… will get 60 votes in the Senate” and “a framework that ultimately will lead to passage of alaw.”
But Democrats and immigration activists may be quick to reject that characterization, and the president’s proposal is sure to complicate bipartisan Senate negotiations.
“I welcome when he says the right thing. But I know the next day he might be 180 degrees different,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in an interview. “We’ve got to get him to sign something right after he says the right thing.”
And Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a longtime immigrant advocate, immediately slammed the plan in a tweet: “$25 billion as ransom for Dreamers with cuts to legal immigration and increases to deportations doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Miller, an immigration hard-liner, told Republican staffers that the White House proposal would establish a $25 billion trust fund for a border defense system, including a wall along the Mexican border — a key campaign promise made by President Donald Trump that he has repeatedly indicated must be included in a final deal. That money would also go toward technology and security at the Canadian border.
The framework also eliminates the visa lottery and curbs U.S. migration by extended families, a fundamental change to existing immigration policy. New citizens would be able to sponsor their immediate families — spouses and children — to legally enter the country, but other relatives would be excluded. The administration would continue to allow people who have already applied for entry to be processed under the old system.
The White House will also ask for additional money to hire more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents as well as immigration judges, attorneys and prosecutors. And the administration will propose closing what the official called legal “loopholes” that “make it almost impossible to deport those immigrants who show up illegally.”
As a sweetener to Democrats, the White House plan would allow an estimated 1.8 million so-called Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, to apply for legal status, remain in the country, and possibly seek citizenship. That’s more than double the roughly 700,000 people protected under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA.
House Republicans had been waiting for the White House to deliver its own proposal, though some conservatives may balk at eventually providing citizenship to undocumented immigrants. Indeed, a competing House plan does not include citizenship as a possibility. And even No. 2 GOP Sen. John Cornyn’s staff in an immigration negotiation as recently as two weeks ago pushed back on the notion of allowing Dreamers to earn citizenship.
“This is the beginning of the end of the GOP majority in the House,” said one GOP staffer on the call. “In a year when the Democrats impeach Trump, we can point to this moment.”
Trump re-injected himself into the immigration debate Wednesday, stopping into a background briefing with reporters to say that he supported a path to citizenship for Dreamers “over a period of 10 to 12 years.”
Miller called that element of the proposal “the most substantial concession” from the White House to Democrats.
“The president has indicated a willingness to extend citizenship to 1.8 million individuals as part of this immigration reform package,” he said. “That would be the DACA population, plus individuals who failed to apply for DACA but otherwise met the requirements, as well as adjustments in timeframe that would bring the total maximum population size to 1.8 million.”
Before the president’s proposal was made public, there was a feeling of cautious optimism among a growing bipartisan group of senators, which continued meeting on Thursday. Developed ahead of the government shutdown, the clutch of several dozen senators is now morphing into an immigration discussion group.
And those senators say that while they welcome Trump’s input, they aren’t going to try to triangulate a bill based on what they think he will eventually sign. That means the framework that the White House formally sends over on Monday may not dictate where the Senate starts in February, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to hold an immigration debate.
“The Senate needs to be the Senate,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Trump’s latest set of concepts is “input, but it’s input from one person. That’s input from one branch of government.”
“We’ll have to interact with the president. The Senate needs to lead. We’re trying to get 70 votes. If you get 70 votes in the Senate, it helps with the House and the president,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.
Changes to the legal immigration system are likely to face the stiffest resistance from Democrats. While they don’t want to provide money for Trump’s wall, it may not be a deal-breaker.
“I don’t think that’s the best way to spend money but look if I can get protection for Dreamers, I’m prepared to do some things that I don’t think are exactly the best,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
Separate from the bipartisan group, senior Republican senators are meeting among themselves to plot a more conservative approach than is likely to emerge from the bipartisan group. And some in the GOP argue that looking at the Senate as a silo will ultimately backfire.
“At the end of the day, our success is not getting a bill voted out of the Senate. It’s getting a bill to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). in an interview.
Trump has already complicated the immigration talks significantly. First he told a large group of Congress members earlier this month to send him something to sign, then two days later rejected a deal cut by Graham and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
And now, after a few days out of the debate, Trump has reinserted himself. That could be bad news for senators who were banking on Trump supporting whatever can get 60 votes in the Senate.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who spoke to Trump this week on immigration, said that he has not heard Trump to commit to signing something simply because it gets strong support from the Senate.
“This is an engaged president,” Perdue said.