by Alexander Bolton · January 9, 2018
President Trump and congressional negotiators on Tuesday outlined the parameters of a potential immigration deal during a lengthy bipartisan meeting at the White House, a major step toward avoiding a government shutdown.
The president and lawmakers who are leading immigration talks on Capitol Hill agreed that an agreement should include four key components.
It should protect an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation, beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, change the weighting given to family relationships when granting legal status and reform the diversity visa lottery program.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later hailed the meeting as “successful.”
Trump told Republican and Democratic negotiators that he would rely on them to hammer out the details and indicated that he would sign into law whatever they send to his desk.
“What I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with. I have great confidence in the people,” he told the two dozen lawmakers arrayed around a table with him in the Cabinet Room.
Trump expressed sympathy to immigrants who came to the country illegally at a young age and now face deportation, urging negotiators to pass “a bill of love.”
But many thorny details remain unresolved, and it appears Congress won’t have enough time to work through them before government funding expires on Jan. 19.
“A deal is always in the details, of course,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), an outspoken advocate for immigrants who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“When you hear about border enforcement, it depends on exactly what we’re talking about. When you hear about the end of the diversity lottery, the question becomes, ‘Well, what other purpose would those visas be used for?’” he said.
“Is there the possibility to come to an agreement? The answer is yes,” he added.
Trump argued Tuesday that family-based, or chain, migration and the diversity visa lottery program have created security problems, pointing to a terror attack along a New York City bike path in October that killed eight people.
“They’re not giving you their best names — common sense tells you they’re not giving you their best names. They give you people that they don’t want, and then we take them out of the lottery,” he said, according to a White House pool report.
Still, the president seemed to scale back his demands for the immigration bill compared to last week, when he told a group of Republican senators that he also wanted the legislation to address people who overstay their visas.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who attended the meeting, said the deal might also address immigrants from war-torn and weather-ravaged areas who have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to live in the United States.
The Trump administration announced this week that it would end the protection for about 200,000 people from El Salvador who have lived in the United States for more than 15 years under TPS.
Putting together a bill that balances all of the competing demands on immigration won’t be easy.
That task is falling to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who have been put in charge of coming up with a timeline for drafting a bill before a March 5 deadline.
“We all understand that getting a little bit of focus and narrowing the issues is important. We started that today,” Cornyn said.
Trump on Tuesday also opened the door to working on a broader immigration reform bill that addresses other issues, such as immigrants who overstay their visas, rules for granting asylum and requiring employers to verify the legal status of workers. He said such a deal could be considered as soon as lawmakers pass legislation to protect “Dreamers” from deportation.
“I think comprehensive will be phase two,” Trump said. “I think we get the one thing done, and then we go into comprehensive the following day. I think it’ll happen.”
That would be a heavy lift in a midterm election year, however, and lawmakers left the meeting somewhat skeptical that a second reform package would be possible.
“That may be an exaggeration,” said Durbin of taking up a broader immigration bill.
Lawmakers say the immigration bill now under consideration is the only one likely to pass for the foreseeable future.
“I would say this is the best bite [at the apple] that we have,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.).
“We need to resolve as much as we can this time because it may not come up again for a long time,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.
Amid the jockeying, it appears likely that Congress will have to pass another short-term measure to keep the government open past Jan. 19. Lawmakers still have to reach agreement on spending caps and it will take more time to draft an omnibus appropriations package.
Democrats have insisted that any long-term spending bill include an agreement to protect Dreamers from deportation.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that immigration reform and the spending package would move separately.
“It is still my view that I will call up a DACA-related immigration bill that … the president will sign and that it will not be a part of any overall spending agreement,” McConnell told reporters, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The immigration debate was set in motion in September, when Trump rescinded DACA, a program that former President Obama had established in 2012. The program protects certain immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, allowing them to live, work and attend school in the country.
Trump said DACA had to be ended because Obama overstepped his authority in enacting it. He gave Congress six months to replace the program, setting a deadline for action of March 5.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to say if he would whip members against the next government funding bill if it doesn’t include an immigration deal protecting “Dreamers,” as some immigration activists and liberal Democrats are demanding.
“It must go in a must-pass bill and the only must-pass bill that we see coming down the road between now and March 5 is this bill. So we can continue to believe, insist, that it be in this bill,” he told reporters.
The Hill · by Alexander Bolton · January 9, 2018