Five hurdles to getting an immigration deal

Five hurdles to getting an immigration deal
© Getty Images

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 John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification 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.  

ADVERTISEMENT

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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Dems want to abolish Electoral College because they 'want rural America to go away' Overwhelming majority of voters want final Mueller report released: poll Bottom Line 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 TillisOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (N.C.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senators eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees Senate GOP goes down to wire in showdown with Trump Overnight Defense: Pentagon seeks B over five years for Space Force | Trump says Warmbier comments 'misinterpreted' | GOP bristles at Trump plan to pay for wall 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 CruzO'Rourke: Decisions on late-term abortions 'best left to a woman and her doctor' New report details O'Rourke's prankish past O'Rourke sees 'a lot of wisdom' in abolishing Electoral College MORE (R-Texas). Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingHateful words demand stronger response from Congress, President Trump Ex-Bush ethics chief calls for Steve King expulsion after he posted meme of potential civil war Steve King deletes Facebook post asking who would win new US civil war 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 RubioSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Dem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump 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 RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon asked to house up to 5,000 migrant children | Judge lifts last injunction against transgender ban | Senators voice anger over problems with military housing | General warns ISIS waiting to resurge 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 NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico 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 CornynGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left Cornyn shrugs off Trump criticism of 'SNL' 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 GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling 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 FlakeTrump keeps tight grip on GOP McSally to back Trump on emergency declaration Flake: Biden 'strikes fear in a lot of Republicans' 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. 

Outside groups

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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Why we need to build gateway now Campaign to draft Democratic challenger to McConnell starts raising funds 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.

President Trump

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 McConnellGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left 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.