US President Donald Trump, on Sunday (Oct 8), called for money to fund a border wall and thousands more immigration officers to be part of any deal to protect “Dreamers” – young people brought illegally to the United States as children. Democrats are seeking a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Donald Trump ended last month.
Trump’s list of immigration “principles,” includes a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the United States, many of them from Central America. The plan was delivered to leaders in Congress on Sunday evening.
The White House wants the wish list to guide immigration reform in Congress and accompany a bill to replace DACA, an Obama-era program that protected nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” from deportation and also allowed them to secure work permits.
“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 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 document said.
It would also 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 behaviour.
The White House priorities, if enacted, could result in the deportation of Dreamers’ parents. The proposals include a request for funds to hire 370 more immigration judges, 1,000 attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 300 federal prosecutors and 10,000 additional ICE agents to enforce immigration laws.
“The president has made clear he wants Congress to act and pass responsible immigration reform in conjunction with any legislation related to DACA,” said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
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 document calls for tighter standards for those seeking US 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.
A White House official on Sunday said that the principles were a guide for the legislative process it hopes Republicans and Democrats will take up.
“Funding for the wall is a priority for the administration. Whether it is part of DACA or there is a different pathway to get it done, it will remain a priority,” he said, adding it would be up to Trump to determine what was negotiable and what was not in a future deal.
The official said the White House would be pushing for”legal status” for the Dreamer population but would not be advocating for citizenship. Republicans in Congress have introduced several bills that would include aspects of Trump’s priorities, but many Democrats and immigration groups see the proposals as too harsh.
White House Legislative Director Marc Short said a review of U.S. immigration laws ordered by Trump identified shortcomings in three major areas: the ability to promptly remove undocumented immigrants at the border; the enforcement of immigration standards inside the U.S., including visa overstays; and ending chain migration, which he described as unfair to taxpayers and citizens.
“The agencies’ bottom-up review identified several legislative priorities to fix these problems and modernize our immigration system,” Short said. “That includes fully funding and completing construction of the border wall and closing legal loopholes that prevent removals and swell the court backlog.”
The review was carried out by agencies including the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security, Short said.
Tom Homan, acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said illegal immigration won’t be stopped “unless we prevent the ‘pull factors’ that drive it.” Without punishment for those entering the country illegally, “there is no integrity in the system,” he said.
Another “pull factor,” Homan said, is an exemption from prompt deportation under current law for undocumented minors who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied by their parents or guardians. The Trump administration wants that exemption ended so that such children can be rapidly returned to their home countries, he said.
The White House also outlined policies that would dramatically change the legal immigration system, including by reducing the number of people allowed to settle in the U.S. each year. That’s expected to be part of the conversation with members of Congress, the officials said.
Trump met last week with a small group of conservative Republican lawmakers to discuss DACA legislation.
Some participants in the meeting, including Senator David Perdue of Georgia, said Trump was willing to alter the agreement with Pelosi and Schumer by including changes to the legal immigration system. Perdue and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who also participated in the White House meeting, have written legislation to revamp U.S. immigration priorities and create what they call a “merit-based” system that would move away from chain migration and halve legal immigration over a decade.
The bill has attracted no other cosponsors, and its principles are opposed not only by Democrats but also many Republicans. But the two senators have sympathizers among Trump’s aides, and possibly in the president himself, for whom immigration was a major campaign issue.
Separately, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley last week said he’s demanding that any deal include a mandatory E-Verify system for employers to check the immigration status of job applicants.