Trump to support path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers

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The White House will endorse allowing as many as 1.8 million young immigrants to seek U.S. citizenship in an immigration plan that will be released next week, senior administration officials said Thursday.

In exchange for the “Dreamer” protections, President Trump will seek billions of dollars for a border wall and sweeping changes to the immigration system.

Officials who described the plan to reporters framed it as Congress’s best chance to pass a fix for immigrants who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump terminated last year. {mosads}

The White House is urging the Senate to draw up legislation based on the plan and introduce it the week of Feb. 5, days before government funding is set to expire, though officials said they do not have an assurance it will be brought up.

“This truly represents a bipartisan compromise position,” said one official, who requested anonymity to detail the proposal. “We have no doubt that if this legislation were brought to the floor, it would easily garner 60 votes.”

The official said Congress failed to pass immigration overhauls in the past because lawmakers considered legislation that was too big in scope and only represented “the most liberal sections of both parties.”

Trump aides offered the most detailed look to date at the president’s plan on immigration, an issue that animated his campaign and has dominated the policy debate on Capitol Hill.

It’s designed to break a partisan impasse on the issue before the DACA programs begin to wind down on March 5.

Despite the White House’s optimism, the plan contains elements that could be unpalatable to lawmakers in both parties.

Under the proposal, immigrants who are covered by DACA or those who are eligible but did not apply can apply for legal status if they meet certain work and education requirements that would be spelled out by Congress.

A senior administration official previously said just the roughly 690,000 immigrants who are covered by DACA would be eligible to apply for citizenship. But another official said Thursday that an additional 1.1 million immigrants who meet age and status requirements for DACA could also apply.

It would take 10-12 years for immigrants to eventually earn citizenship, a timeline Trump revealed during an impromptu session with reporters Wednesday.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to help young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as “Dreamers.” But an official said it was a “dramatic concession by the White House” to expand the pool of people eligible for citizenship.  

The larger “Dreamer” population is believed to number 3.6 million people.

In exchange, Trump is asking for $25 billion in large part to build his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a key campaign promise the president has said must be included in a final deal.

The money would be kept in a trust fund so it could not be clawed back by future Congresses.

Officials estimate the wall will cost $20 billion, with the other $5 billion slated to fund new technology and stronger security measures for ports of entry and the U.S-Canada border.

Another $5 billion would be spent to hire more border agents and immigration judges.

That trade-off — wall funding in exchange for DACA protections — appears similar to a deal that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered before the three-day government shutdown.

Schumer portrayed the $25 billion offer of wall funding as a major concession, but on Tuesday declared that money is now “off the table.”

But an administration official said the White House plan was “galaxies apart” from what Schumer offered.

The Trump plan contains steep limits on migration by extended family members.

Under the new system, U.S. citizens and permanent residents could only sponsor their immediate families, which includes spouses and minor children. Other relatives, like parents and siblings, would be excluded.

The framework also scraps the visa lottery system, which allows people from countries with low levels of U.S. immigration to apply for visas. The administration would “reallocate” the visas to clear a backlog of people waiting for family-based and high-skilled worker visas.

Trump administration officials said the plan should satisfy lawmakers who accused Trump of stymying immigration negotiations by being too vague in his demands.

Schumer, who failed to strike a deal last week before the three-day government shutdown, compared the talks to “negotiating with Jell-O.”

“So, where’s the president at on this?” a Trump administration official said, summarizing lawmaker complaints “So here it is. … This is the president’s position.”

While Trump’s offer contains a key demand for Democrats — a path to citizenship for DACA-eligible immigrants — it might scare off members who say they’re giving up too many restrictions on legal immigration.

“There is going to be a significant pushback regarding the changes to legal immigration,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told The Hill. 

“Some folks on the far-left of the Democratic Party are going to have to accept — if they are sincere in their care for DACA recipients — they’re going to have to acknowledge the election results,” a senior administration official replied.

Some conservative Republicans are also balking at offering any path to citizenship to young immigrants.

“I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters at the Capitol. “Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”

Noorani called the administration’s plan “an important step in the process” but said more changes would need to be made in order for Congress to pass a DACA fix. 

“I’m not sure this is the framework that gets to 60 in the Senate and 218 in the House,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a statement said the administration’s plan “builds upon the four pillars for reform that the president has consistently put forth.”

“Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement,” McConnell said.

Administration officials aides were also not optimistic the plan could pass the House, where immigration hard-liners are more prevalent.

“I don’t know yet,” one official said when asked if it could pass the House. The same official predicted the House and Senate would likely have to go to a conference committee to resolve their differences on immigration.  

Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office praised the administration for releasing a plan.

“We’re grateful for the president showing leadership on this issue and believe his ideas will help us ultimately reach a balanced solution,” said spokesman Doug Andres.

Updated at 6:22 p.m.

Tags Amnesty Charles Schumer deferred action for childhood arrivals Demography Diversity Immigrant Visa Donald Trump Illegal immigration Immigration Immigration policy of Donald Trump Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Ted Cruz
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