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White House Rolls Out Immigration Bill Demands but Top Democrats Object

List of asks closely aligns with Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy

Immigration rights activists rally in Dupont Circle in Washington on May 1. The White House rolled out its demands for a broad immigration bill on Sunday night. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Immigration rights activists rally in Dupont Circle in Washington on May 1. The White House rolled out its demands for a broad immigration bill on Sunday night. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Trump administration on Sunday evening unveiled a sweeping list of demands for immigration overhaul legislation that Congress is slated to take up by early next year. But senior Democrats are already signaling the White House’s demands could sink any such bill.

Senior White House and administration officials told reporters on a hastily arranged call that President Donald Trump wants an immigration bill he set in motion last month to include funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, provisions aimed at cracking down on the flow of minors from Central and South America, a new merit-based legal immigration system and changes to the federal grant program for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

The package of immigration policy changes closely adheres to Trump’s “America First” campaign platform, which is the foundation of his ideology and governing approach. It also further complicates a knotty GOP autumn-winter agenda that has yet to produce a victory for the president and his party.

The proposals are, in large part, based on recommendations from the Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments, as well as immigration and border security agents who are on the “front lines” every day, officials said.

Immigration asks

The administration said any immigration bill that reaches Trump’s desk must include changes to help agents remove undocumented individuals in the United States, and proposals aimed at ending so-called “chain migration,” a term used by immigration hard-liners to refer to how new U.S. citizens can petition to sponsor family members to immigrate to the country.

The White House also wants existing restrictions on closing “loopholes” and other rules that officials say hinder their ability to remove undocumented individuals, said Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director. He also listed restricting “family-based” migration and measures intended to crack down on those who overstay visas as items Trump expects to be included in any bill Congress passes and sends to him to make law.

The administration will need to attract a handful of Senate Democrats to get any immigration bill over a 60-vote threshold in the chamber. That means perhaps the most politically red hot of the demands the White House rolled out Sunday night is a demand that the coming legislation include funds for the president’s proposed border wall.

Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, called construction of the border barrier an “invaluable tool” that will help bolster America’s policies to deter would-be undocumented immigrants from Central and South America from attempting to cross the border. Every recommendation the administration received from front-line border security agents would be addressed by a wall, he said Sunday.

The White House is also insisting lawmakers include provisions to address the existing “asylum” problem by providing more judges, attorneys and detention facilities. If “asylum” hearings are not brought “quickly,” Vitiello said, those who would be subject to them are often “never seen again” and disappear into the population.

Many of those asks, especially funding for Trump’s wall, will likely be deal-breakers for congressional Democrats.

So, too, will be the White House’s demand that the bill curb funding for sanctuary cities, which Trump officials say are attracting more undocumented individuals to come to the U.S. “at the expense of public safety.” Undocumented individuals who commit crimes in America are likely to become repeat offenders, according to White House officials.

Another demand Democrats will oppose: A senior administration official said the president is not interested in granting citizenship to individuals currently protected by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The program protects from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, also known as Dreamers.

Congressional response

White House officials informed congressional leaders and the heads of relevant committees earlier Sunday. Congressional Democratic leaders did not wait for the White House to wrap its call with reporters before they blasted out a statement lambasting the administration’s package of demands.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a joint statement that the White House “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.”

“We told the president at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the DREAM Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.

“The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations,” the Democratic duo said. “If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”

Not surprisingly, a key House Republican issued a statement that underscores how difficult it will be to craft an immigration measure that appeases both parties in both chambers.

“The Trump administration has put forth a serious proposal to address the enforcement of our immigration laws and border security,” House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte said. “Many of these policies have been included in legislation passed by the House Judiciary Committee. … One thing is clear, however: 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.”

Last month, when he put the Obama-era DACA program on a glide path toward termination, Trump gave Congress six months to make that program — or something similar — legal as part of a broader immigration bill. One month of that window has already passed, with the next two months slated to be devoted to — in terms of major legislation — a Republican tax overhaul push, hurricane relief funding and a potentially contentious government-funding bill.

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