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White House Would Trade DACA Doubling for Full Wall Funds

Democrats and Republicans expected to object to parts of plan

The White House is set to release its immigration overhaul soon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The White House is set to release its immigration overhaul soon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 7:55 p.m. | The White House has crafted an immigration overhaul package that would offer a path to citizenship to an estimated 1.8 million “Dreamers” brought to the United States as children, restrict so-called chain migration and appropriate $30 billion for a border wall and other security measures.

The outlines of the White House proposal, which will be formally released Monday, will undoubtedly anger President Donald Trump’s populist base that supported his hard-line stance during the election as well as conservatives in the House and Democrats who believe his policies are anti-immigrant.

Senior administration officials briefing reporters on Thursday said the package calls for legalizing more than double the nearly 700,000 Dreamers who are now enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that Trump wants to end on March 5. It also seeks to place $25 billion for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall into a trust fund — a concept that could raise criticism from appropriators and fiscal conservatives.

A major sticking point will likely be the White House’s plan to limit chain migration — the process by which citizens and lawful residents can bring immediate and extended family members into the country — to only nuclear families. Senior administration officials said immigrants could petition to bring only their spouses and minor children, while family members such as parents, siblings and in-laws would not be eligible as they currently are.

[Trump Signals He Might Extend DACA Deadline]

Democrats in the past have slammed Trump’s calls to end chain migration as too harsh, arguing it would break up families and not live up to American values. One White House official said restricting family migration would cut down on crime and ensure only individuals capable of “contributing” to the U.S. economy and society are allowed.

As Trump has insisted for months, the Diversity Visa Lottery program that benefits individuals from countries with historically low U.S. immigration rates would be terminated.

Senior administration officials said those visas would now be used to “judiciously” process backlogs in other visa programs, with an eye toward granting them to immigrants who could “contribute” to the United States.

Watch: Immigration, Budget Talks on Hill Could Be Just That — A Lot of Talk

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Elusive agreement

The legislative package would jump-start a larger policy debate about immigration that began with Trump’s election and engulfed spending debates on Capitol Hill with his fiscal 2018 budget request for about $1.6 billion to build 74 miles of wall.

Trump on Wednesday signaled he favored a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for Dreamers. “We’re going to morph into it,” he said.

The White House hopes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would bring the package to the floor in early February, while the House would craft and act on an “independent vehicle,” with the chambers hashing out their differences in a conference committee.

[Immigration Crackdown Raises Fears of Seeking Health Care]

Immigration became entangled in larger debates about budget and spending issues that led to the partial government shutdown last weekend. As part of a shutdown-ending pact struck on Monday, McConnell agreed to start debate on an immigration bill next month as long as the government remained opened.

Trump had rejected a bipartisan deal reached by six senators, led by Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Separately, more than two dozen senators of mostly moderate and centrist persuasions in both parties tried to negotiate an immigration deal in the midst of the government shutdown.

Senior administration officials told reporters Thursday that the immigration package represents “a compromise on many fronts” and a “down the middle” proposal capable of garnering “a real groundswell of support from serious” members of both parties.

As the senior officials walked reporters through the framework, they made clear they are not aiming for any support from Democratic members on the “far left” of the political spectrum.

McConnell praised the framework in a news release and said it is an indication of “what is necessary for the president to sign a bill into law.” He encouraged senators who have been trying to forge a deal “will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement.”


Potential roadblocks

Democrats did not mask their anger.

“The White House is using Dreamers to mask their underlying xenophobic, isolationist, and un-American policies, which will harm millions of immigrants living in the United States and millions of others who want to legally immigrate and contribute to our country,” New Mexico Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a news release.

Certain aspects of the White House framework may not fly with congressional Republicans, especially in the House, which leans more to the right than the Senate. Lawmakers in the lower chamber are pushing a bill  by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia that would not offer Dreamers a path to citizenship, only renewable periods of legal status.

That bill, which has the blessing of the 150-member Republican Study Committee, addresses a wider scope of issues than the White House would like. For instance, it would also cut legal immigration by about 25 percent, allow the Justice Department to withhold federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities and force employers to check the immigration status of their workers.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a key group of House lawmakers, is almost certain to oppose ending the visa lottery, which benefits African immigrants in particular. The caucus had been considering supporting some changes, but said afterward it could not negotiate with Trump after he reportedly described Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting earlier this month.

White House officials did not hide their frustration that they believe lawmakers are just now getting serious about sweeping immigration policy changes.

“We have been pushing Congress to take up legislation for quite some time,” one senior official said. “Despite concerns raised by DHS, obviously there was not a lot of action in the first six months [of Trump’s presidency].”


Lindsey McPherson and Joe Williams contributed to this report.