Trump immigration plan hits wall of opposition
President Trump’s immigration plan is running into heavy opposition on and off Capitol Hill, suggesting the much-anticipated framework has failed to move the needle as a bipartisan group of senators try to negotiate a deal.
Trump’s one-page framework calls for granting a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million young immigrants in exchange for tens of billions of dollars for his border wall and other policies that would dramatically restrict legal immigration in the coming years.
The president wants the Senate to draft legislation based on his blueprint and introduce it by Feb. 5, just three days before funding for the government runs out.
But the day-old plan is already taking heavy fire from both the right and the left.
For the bipartisan gang of 20 senators trying to hammer out an agreement to protect the “Dreamers,” it’s clear the Trump outline — intended as an olive branch to Democrats — gets them no closer to a deal. One of the key negotiators of the group, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), warned that Trump’s plan places the White House’s “hardline immigration agenda … on the backs of these young people.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will need to sign off on any deal for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the upper chamber, echoed those sentiments on Twitter on Friday. Trump is using DACA recipients as “a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years,” he wrote.
Trump’s plan did get an endorsement from a pair of key conservatives, Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), with the latter characterizing the plan as “generous and humane” and “responsible.”
But for the most part, conservative outside groups, members of the House Freedom Caucus and other vocal immigration hard-liners all panned the White House plan, saying providing a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers” amounted to “mass amnesty” for law breakers.
“Illegals have No Right to be here & have ALL violated our laws. This #Amnesty deal negotiates away American Sovereignty,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hawk, tweeted Friday.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced immigration, had embraced an immigration proposal by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). That bill includes a path to legalization for nearly 700,000 DACA recipients — the first time since 1986 that NumbersUSA has supported any proposal along those lines.
But the White House proposal goes too far for Beck.
“NumbersUSA has no choice but to oppose what is being suggested as the White House ‘framework’ for a mass amnesty,” Beck said.
“The plan seems eerily similar to the blueprint used for the 2007 Bush-Kennedy amnesty, which appeared to end chain migration, but wouldn’t actually end it for 17 years. NumbersUSA mobilized our huge grass-roots army to defeat the 2007 amnesty, and we will do the same if this plan is proposed next week,” he added.
The outside conservative group Heritage Action described Trump’s plan as a “nonstarter” because it “expands the amnesty-eligible population,” while the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, an immigration restrictionist group, suggested Trump had betrayed the conservative base that had propelled him to the presidency.
“Time to start burning your #MAGA hats. Send pictures and I’ll retweet,” Mark Krikorian tweeted.
The House Freedom Caucus, the group of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, has yet to meet to discuss Trump’s proposal. The group’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), was traveling with the president in Davos, Switzerland, and has yet to weigh in. But other members of the group were cool to the Trump plan.
“There should be no amnesty for anyone who broke the law to come here,” one Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), told The Hill. “It’s a slap in the face to those who follow the law.”
And former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), appearing on Fox News on Friday, said he had “concerns” about the Trump plan.
The Ohio Republican said he favors the Goodlatte bill, which places greater emphasis on border-enforcement measures like mandating that all employers use E-Verify, ending chain migration, also known as family reunification, and cracking down on sanctuary cities.
If there is a “focus on DACA first and then a little pretend security and pretend border wall and pretend chain migration,” Jordan said, “that’s a different animal, and I won’t be for that, and neither will lots of conservatives, more importantly, lots of Americans.”
On the other end of the political spectrum, Democratic leaders, liberal groups and pro-immigration advocates accused Trump of holding Dreamers hostage while demanding draconian policies that would greatly curb legal immigration.
The plan calls for a $25 billion trust fund for border security — many times more than what Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had entertained in their bipartisan negotiations. It also would scrap the visa lottery system and severely limit family-based immigration, which Republicans call “chain migration.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group that works closely with progressive members on immigration, said the White House plan “comes nowhere close to finding the sweet spot” for a bipartisan agreement.
“It is a far-right restructuring of our entire immigration system in trying exploit the crisis that was created by Trump ending DACA,” he said.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, a DACA recipient and policy director for United We Dream, a youth network of Dreamer advocates, said Dreamers — even those benefited by the proposal — would not accept its price.
“The immigration proposal presented yesterday by the Trump White House is nothing more than a white supremacist ransom note. A ‘Sophie’s choice’ by an immoral and horrible man whose aim is to wipe immigrant families from this country,” she said.
Like the Goodlatte bill, the White House proposal would cut legal immigration and change the methods by which immigrants are selected.
John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the proposal “decimates the family immigration system that has made this country so dynamic.”
Democrats, wary of their base’s reaction to the short-lived shutdown, took a similar tone.
“We cannot allow the lives of young people who have done everything right to be used as bargaining chips for sweeping anti-immigrant policies,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) in a statement.
“The White House is using Dreamers to mask their underlying xenophobic, isolationist, and un-American policies, which will harm millions of immigrants living in the United States and millions of others who want to legally immigrate and contribute to our country,” she said.
Still, the White House proposal follows a well-worn formula in immigration negotiations — trading enforcement measures for legalizing blocs of immigrants in the country illegally.
“We can’t go on when the administration and Republicans ask for more, and more, and more for less, and less, and less,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on Thursday. “You want a billion per year for the wall, I want a million undocumented people per year, legalized.”
But Menendez warned, before the White House made its proposal public, that Republican enforcement demands were far outweighing their offer in terms of legalizations.
“It’s not reasonable to say that for a group of 700,000-800,000 students in this country, to ask what was negotiated for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.
Republican senators on the negotiating team remained silent in the aftermath of the White House announcement.
“Frankly, they were expecting something that would have a chance of being enacted, not something that’s dead on arrival,” Sharry said.