White House fires back at Graham: 'He's been an outlier for years'
Key GOP senator: Don't link legal immigration cuts to DACA fix
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is urging the White House to back off from a plan to require cuts to legal immigration as part of a deal to protect young immigrants brought to the country illegally.
Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Congress should have a "bigger debate" about what the country's levels of legal immigration should be - separate from a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"We ought to be narrowly focused on the DACA fix that the president's asked us to consider ... and then we can turn to these other issues in the next legislation," he told reporters Thursday.
Cornyn said he supports "merit-based immigration" but "the most immediate thing we can do is to address the DACA situation. And I think the most logical way forward is to tie that to border security and interior enforcement."
The White House is expected to send a proposal to Congress demanding strict immigration measures in exchange for helping current DACA recipients.
A source told The Hill earlier Thursday that the proposal, drafted by senior policy aide Stephen Miller, would cut legal immigration in half over the next decade and dramatically ramp up punishments for immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
But such a request would spark backlash from Democrats and many Republicans, who panned a similar White House-endorsed bill from GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.), know as the RAISE Act.
That bill would cut legal immigration levels in half over the next 10 years while transforming the visa system from a family-based one into a merit-based one.
Cotton and Perdue, as well as Cornyn, were part of a White House meeting on immigration Monday night. Perdue said after the meeting that they discussed DACA, the RAISE Act, border security and e-verify as parts of a potential legislative solution.
Cornyn, however, warned on Thursday that tying cuts to legal immigration in the DACA debate could sink legislation altogether.
"I think the problem is once we start getting into the legal immigration debate, and what the appropriate fixes are, then we are in danger of getting back into the comprehensive immigration reform debate, which leaves us basically empty handed," he said.
Cornyn has offered his own border security bill that would allocate $15 billion over four years for enforcement and security.