President Donald Trump offered Democrats a concession on immigration but at a price that so far they’ve been unwilling to accept.
The administration Thursday night proposed giving 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship in exchange for drastically reducing family-based migration, a $25 billion trust fund for a border wall, stepped-up security at ports of entry, and stricter internal enforcement.
The framework is, in effect, a bottom line for the president, one White House official said when asked if it was negotiable.
“These are good people, these are people that should be able to stay in this country,” Trump said in an interview with CNBC that aired Friday. “We’re going to solve the DACA problem. But we also want to solve a tremendous problem on the southern border, which is crime.”
He added that the border wall would not cost $25 billion. During his campaign Trump promised to make Mexico pay for the wall, a proposal the U.S. neighbor has repeatedly rejected and that Trump has essentially abandoned.
“We’ll build a great wall and we’ll have a lot of money left over, and we’ll spend it on other things,” he said.
After weeks of complaints from Republicans as well as Democrats that the White House wasn’t giving clear direction on what Trump would support, the administration dropped what it said was a framework for a deal into the middle of negotiations already under way in the Senate to help the immigrants, who are known as dreamers.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who had offered to fully pay for Trump’s border wall ahead of last weekend’s government shutdown, rejected the new proposal on Friday.
"While @realDonaldTrump finally acknowledged that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay here and become citizens, he uses them as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years," Schumer said on Twitter.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will have to maneuver any final legislation through the various factions in their chambers, thanked the administration in separate statements without explicitly endorsing its provisions.
“Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement,” McConnell said in his statement.
The White House is asking the Senate to rely on its outline as lawmakers draft a bill to protect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the program that Trump announced last year would end in early March. The 1.8 million people who would be eligible to apply for citizenship under certain conditions is more than double the number now registered under DACA.
The program would set requirements for education, work and good moral character, as defined in the law for those seeking citizenship. Legal status could be revoked over criminal conduct, public safety or national security concerns, fraud, or if someone becomes financially dependent on the government.
The proposal includes limiting family-based immigration to nuclear families — spouses and children only; no parents or other relatives — and ending the visa lottery system put into place more than two decades ago. The restrictions on family sponsorship wouldn’t apply to those already in the backlogged process.
Democrats have opposed limiting family-based immigration and they and their allies condemned the White House plan.
“The White House claims to be compromising because the president now agrees with the overwhelming majority of Americans that dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship,” Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who has been at the center of the immigration negotiations, said in a statement. “But his plan would put the administration’s entire hardline immigration agenda — including massive cuts to legal immigration — on the backs of these young people.”
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it a $25 billion wish list cooked up by White House aide Stephen Miller, long known as a backer of restricting legal as well as illegal immigration.
One advocacy group for young immigrants, United We Dream, called the proposal “a white supremacist ransom note.”
Democrats in Congress blocked legislation to extend stopgap funding of the government last Friday, triggering a three-day shutdown, to press their demands for a solution to DACA. They relented after McConnell promised to give a vote on the issue once a bipartisan group of senators came up with legislation.
The administration wants McConnell to bring the bill to the floor the week of Feb. 6, just before current government funding runs out at the end of the day on Feb. 8.
Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, who’ve taken a hard line in the immigration debate and are co-sponsoring legislation that would cut legal immigration by 50 percent over a decade, praised the administration’s outline.
Cotton called it “generous and humane,” while Perdue said it’s “something that both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate should be eager to support. We all want a good deal, and here it is.”
Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, an advocate for immigrants among House Republicans, said the provisions for Dreamers were “extremely compelling.”
Republicans involved in the Senate talks, including John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said this week that a proposal from the president would be useful in talks on compromise legislation, but that lawmakers were prepared to take a leading role.
The president’s willingness to sign a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship is a shift from his campaign promise to end all “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. In a Jan. 9 meeting with lawmakers, the president said he wanted to deal with the issue with “love.” Some conservatives criticized the change.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who was among the candidates who opposed Trump for the Republican nomination in 2016, blasted the idea of giving young undocumented immigrants a way to become citizens, and suggested the president was betraying his voters.
“I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally,” Cruz said at the Capitol, before the release of the White House plan. “Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”
Michael Needham, chief executive officer of the conservative group Heritage Action, called the proposal an expansion of "amnesty" and said in a statement that it "should be a non-starter."