Updated 10:01 p.m. | President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to back a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if lawmakers approve $25 billion for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Besides that sum, Trump also wants lawmakers to include another $5 billion for border security in any immigration bill they send him, he told a small group of reporters at the White House. Both allotments would then be placed in a “fund” that would be tapped for the border barrier project and enhancing border security, he added.
The president’s endorsement of eventual citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, marks another change in his frequently shifting immigration stance. A day earlier, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would sign a hard-line House immigration bill that would only grant Dreamers renewable legal status designations without a chance for full citizenship.
“We’re going to morph into it,” Trump said, signaling he favors a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship. A senior administration official later indicated that legal status would happen “immediately, if they behave themselves.”
Proponents of citizenship for Dreamers wasted no time in seizing on Trump’s statements.
“President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system,” tweeted South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a key senator involved in ongoing DACA negotiations. “With this strong statement I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”
Trump also said he could give Congress more time to pass legislation that would protect DACA recipients if lawmakers do not act by his March 5 deadline for unwinding the program. He said he would not guarantee that he would extend the deadline he set in September, but added: “I certainly have the right to that, if I want.”
Trump expressed confidence that he and lawmakers can strike a deal, and offered a message to the roughly 700,000 people now enrolled in DACA.
“Tell them not to worry,” Trump said, en route to the White House, hours before his scheduled departure for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
The president popped in on a meeting between reporters and a senior administration official to preview an immigration overhaul legislative outline the White House will roll out on Monday on the eve of his first official State of the Union address.
The White House is expected to roll out an immigration overhaul legislative outline on Monday. Trump, however, did not want to wait until then to lay out his priorities for any immigration bill. He told reporters any legislation must include three items: fixing DACA, a “negotiated” chain migration change, and the end of the visa lottery system.
“Well, it’s got to go in a very strong form, absolutely,” he said of the latter when pressed. “I think even the Democrats know that the lottery system is not good — it’s a bad system.”
Trump was also a bit unclear just how he wants the immigration issue to play out: “After we do DACA, we’ll take a look at the even bigger immigration problem.”
It was also not clear whether he wants one bill or two.
In a message to lawmakers on how integral a wall is to a broader deal, Trump said, “I can tell you this: If you don’t have a wall, you don’t have DACA.”
The president also said he would meet again with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, despite their failed talks last Friday to avert a government shutdown and his harsh words about his fellow New Yorker on Twitter since.
“I like him,” the president said with a big smile, his arms out to the side in a dramatic gesture.
At the Capitol, senators who attended a bipartisan immigration meeting Wednesday evening said they were unaware of what would be included in the White House’s proposal. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin would act as “facilitators” to gather ideas from senators in the hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal on DACA and three other immigration issues by Feb. 8, when current government funding expires.
Cornyn, who earlier in the day floated a 10-year border wall appropriation in return for permanent legal status for Dreamers, said he was unaware of the terms the White House would propose.
Durbin declined to say whether he’d support investment for a border wall beyond what negotiators had originally discussed — $1.6 billion for the first 74 miles, as requested in the president’s fiscal 2018 budget. Durbin repeated that Democrats are willing to deal when it comes to securing the border.
“That’s down the line several steps,” the Illinois Democrat told reporters.
Graham said two moderate senators, Maine Republican Susan Collins and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III would be hosting bipartisan immigration meetings in the coming days in order to gather ideas for a measure that could pass the Senate. Conservatives in the House, such as Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, have criticized the idea of the House being bound by the Senate.
“We generally know where the friction points are, but now we have a process to find solutions to those friction points,” Graham said.
Senior White House officials are slated to be on Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief lawmakers and aides on the immigration framework the administration plans to release on Monday.
Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.