The Trump administration and Congress have a matter of weeks to agree to an immigration deal that would protect potentially millions of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children from deportation.
President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE is winding down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed qualified immigrants to work and go to school here. The White House set a March 5 deadline for action by Congress.
Before then, lawmakers face a Feb. 8 deadline to fund the government — not too long after a three-day shutdown triggered by the fight over DACA. The Senate will start its immigration debate immediately after the spending deadline.
Getting to a deal will be anything but easy given contrasting positions of the White House, Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Here are five big hurdles to a deal.
Can there be an agreement on citizenship?
Trump is now backing a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million immigrants known as “Dreamers,” a stance that significantly increases the likelihood it will be a part of a deal.
But there’s no guarantee.
Trump’s proposal is paired with spending $25 billion on border security, including funding for the wall with Mexico, an end to family immigration policies that allow immigrants to bring parents and adult children to the United States, and the death of the visa lottery program designed to bring in more people from countries that send fewer immigrants here.
Democrats and some Republicans support allowing DACA recipients to become citizens. A bipartisan proposal from Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod MORE (R-S.C.) would give a 10- to 12-year path, the same timeframe outlined by Trump.
A bill proposed last year by GOP Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (N.C.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Florida senator seeks probe of Ben & Jerry's halting sales in Israeli settlements Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama MORE (Okla.) set up a 15-year waiting period.
But a number of Republicans oppose including a path to citizenship, including Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails The Memo: Like the dress or not, Ocasio-Cortez is driving the conversation again Ocasio-Cortez defends attendance of Met Gala amid GOP uproar MORE (R-Texas). Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE (R-Iowa) said on Twitter that Trump's "amnesty deal negotiates away American Sovereignty."
And Trump could back away if Democrats refuse to meet his other demands.
“What I think people need to realize is he’s willing to do citizenship if, and only if, it becomes accompanied with the border and ending chain migration,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (R-Fla.).
Deciding on the size of the deal
Trump has set out four pillars for the talks: DACA, border security, family migration and the visa lottery program.
But some senators think it might be smarter to work on a smaller deal.
They are floating a scaled-back immigration plan that would pair protections for DACA recipients with a border security package. That plan would leave out a path for citizenship, supported by Democrats, and the changes to family-based immigration pushed for by conservatives.
Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill MORE (R-S.D.) said that including “chain,” or family-based immigration — which allows citizens and legal residents to sponsor their family members — makes the debate “a lot more complicated.”
Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Biden to talk Russia, anti-corruption with Ukraine's president Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos wages lawfare on NASA and SpaceX MORE (D-Fla.), who is up for reelection in a state won by Trump, added: “If you start putting in all of these highly charged, toxic issues it’s just not going to work.”
But conservatives are demanding changes to family-based immigration as part of any deal.
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE (R-Texas), who is taking the lead for Republicans on drafting the Senate bill, accused senators of trying to “alter reality.”
“The reality is the president said there had to be four pillars and I think people just need to accept that and deal with it,” he said.
Getting a bill through the House
Getting an immigration bill through the Senate is one thing. Getting one through the House is another.
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama both saw immigration deals die in the lower chamber, so there is plenty of room to doubt a deal brokered in the Senate will survive in the more conservative House.
Conservative House lawmakers are already putting heavy pressure on their leaders to bring legislation spearheaded by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.) to the floor.
The Goodlatte bill provides DACA recipients a temporary, three-year legal status that could be renewed indefinitely instead of a path to citizenship. It also includes elements of the White House’s wish list, including $30 billion to build a border wall and bolster other security measures.
Senators are torn on how to handle the House.
Some Republicans, including GOP Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (Ariz.) and Graham, argue if they can get at least 70 supporters on the Senate proposal, it might help win over the lower chamber.
Others are preaching for their colleagues to be realistic.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said the Senate needs to be “mindful” of their House counterparts.
Trump's immigration framework is already under fire from both sides, who are casting the proposal as a non-starter.
Breitbart News, a conservative website, labeled the plan "Don's Amnesty Bonanza," while on the left, CREDO Action said it was a "white supremacist’s wish list."
The criticism from progressives is less surprising because Trump's proposal was put together by immigration hard-liners on his staff. But paired with early opposition from some on the right, it underscores how difficult it will be to get people on board with the agreement.
Immigration deals in the past have been killed off by outside groups, and there have been some notable moments in this year’s debate where individual lawmakers have moved from their positions.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), for example, turned heads when he said during the three-day government shutdown he could agree to money for the wall in exchange for DACA protections. Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader, also offered wall funding to Trump for DACA.
Schumer, however, came under heavy criticism from the left over the shutdown, which liberals thought was mishandled. He then said he was rescinding his earlier offer, underlining the influence progressives inside and outside the Capitol will have in the weeks going forward.
The question of what Trump really wants on immigration has long been a challenge for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Just before the shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (R-Ky.) said he would bring an immigration bill to the floor “as soon as we figure out what he is for,” referring to Trump. Until then, he said the Senate would just be spinning its wheels.
Trump confused lawmakers at the beginning of the month when he invited key members to a roundtable discussion and talked of wanting to get a deal. Trump even said he’d sign whatever lawmakers brought him, and at one point seemed to be confused over what a “clean” DACA bill might look like.
Days later, Trump shocked Durbin and Graham with strident talk at another White House meeting, saying he didn’t want the United States to accept more immigrants from “shithole countries” such as Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.
The reversal contributed to the sense on Capitol Hill that Trump’s positions can turn on a dime.
The White House’s rollout of a proposal on Thursday, which is expected to be formalized Monday, is aimed at offering reassurances.
But it’s unlikely to completely assuage doubts in both parties that the president might change his mind again.