The White House’s promised forthcoming immigration deal, explained
The Trump administration is either going to save DACA negotiations or torpedo them. Again.
The Trump White House just made a big promise: On Monday, on the eve of President Trump’s first State of the Union address (and less than two weeks before the next deadline to pass a government funding bill), the administration will release an outline for a “bipartisan” immigration bill for the Senate to take up.
In a statement, the White House said that the framework it will unveil “represents a compromise that members of both parties can support” and “will fulfill four agreed-upon pillars: securing the border and closing legal loopholes, ending extended-family chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and providing a permanent solution on DACA” — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that shielded nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation, which Trump has ended.
Such a framework is exactly what members of both parties in Congress — especially Republicans — have been asking for. As Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said on Tuesday: “At some point, we’re going to need to know exactly what the White House is thinking, because who wants to pass a bill only to have it vetoed?”
With little room to maneuver on policy (for a bill to pass, it will have to be liberal enough to attract 60 votes in the Senate and conservative enough to satisfy a majority of House Republicans) and very little time to debate the issue, a Trump-endorsed framework could be a game changer.
Or it could put a stake through the heart of any hopes for an immigration deal by March 5, the date on which, as it currently stands, 1,100 or so immigrants will start losing their DACA protections each day.
Which path it takes is as unpredictable as President Trump himself.
Congress keeps asking for Trump’s demands and keeps not getting good answers
The White House put itself in this position to begin with by deciding, in September, to end the DACA program — preventing 690,000 young unauthorized immigrants from renewing the temporary work permits and deportation protections some of them had had since 2012.
Ever since September 5, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would end the DACA program and Trump called on Congress to address the status of DACA recipients in the next six months, members of Congress trying to work on the issue have asked the White House to tell them what kind of immigration bill Trump would be able to sign.
The White House has answered this question publicly on at least three occasions. And none of them have helped.
In October — and again earlier this month — the answer to “What do you need?” was a seven-page wish list: restrictions on legal immigration, a sweeping crackdown on unauthorized immigrants in the United States, and an overhaul of border policy (in the more recent memo, an attachment spelled out that the White House wanted $19 billion over 10 years to build a wall on the US-Mexico border). The wish list did not, however, include anything about DACA recipients — and the White House wasn’t willing to commit to supporting a bill that would allow current DACA recipients to eventually become US citizens, even if its other demands were met.
Neither of these wish lists was helpful for Republicans actually trying to come to an agreement with Democrats. Both were more or less ignored.
On January 9, in an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, the Trump administration tried again. At first, staffers passed out a four-page list of demands compiled by the Department of Homeland Security. But Trump, reportedly upset that the list didn’t match his personal demands and that he hadn’t seen it in advance, instructed congressional leaders to ignore it. Instead, the White House issued a statement afterward saying that they’d agreed to focus the immigration debate on four issues — the same four “agreed-upon pillars” the White House now says it will take the lead in addressing.
The room for a “bipartisan” agreement on the issues Trump has picked is very small
Those four issues are clearly Trump’s own priorities. They’re the ones he’s been tweeting about for weeks. But it’s been very hard to get agreement on them between bipartisan reformers and conservatives, with the White House (and, sometimes, Trump himself) squarely in the latter camp.
Border security and “closing legal loopholes.” Democrats have been willing to spend money on border infrastructure as part of a DACA deal, though neither Democrats nor Republicans are eager to spend tens of billions of dollars on a “wall.” (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Trump $20 billion in authorization for a wall in exchange for citizenship for those protected under DACA, known as DREAMers; Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly rejected the trade on Friday, and Schumer formally, if redundantly, rescinded the offer on Tuesday.) But the question on border security isn’t just how much money is spent, and whether what’s built with that money is something that can be called a “wall” or not.
Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, as well as influential Republicans like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), have stressed that border security also needs to include statutory changes that would make it harder for people to pursue asylum cases after entering the US and reduce special protections for families and unaccompanied children crossing the border. Because children and families from Central America make up an increasing share of border apprehensions, they see deterring those immigrants as an important security measure. Democrats, however, see it as cruel: a crackdown on people fleeing gang violence that doesn’t make anyone safer.
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