Democrats Reject White House Immigration Proposal
An array of hard-line immigration priorities the White House outlined to Congress Sunday were quickly rejected by Democrats as complete non-starters, jeopardizing the chances of striking a deal to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
Many in Congress have viewed the sweet spot for a legislative fix to be a package that includes border security, enhanced enforcement and a permanent solution for undocumented immigrants who have been protected under executive actions that President Trump pledged to rescind next spring. Democrats believed they had worked out a handshake deal with Trump last month to pass the DREAM Act, and to set aside debate on some more controversial immigration proposals.
But Trump’s proposal Sunday includes significant changes to how the U.S. handles legal and illegal immigration, throwing a wrench into any potential agreement and creating a canyon between the White House and Democrats on finding a path forward.
Trump’s outline included funding his proposed border wall -- though Democrats believed the president had agreed to put that off, as he said last month that “the wall will come later.” Other controversial elements are a crackdown on sanctuary cities, limiting the number of refugees entering the U.S. and changing the legal immigration system from a family-based one to a point-based merit system. It also included an increase in immigration officers and attorneys and mandatory use of E-Verify to ensure workers have legal status, among myriad other policies.
President Trump, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the proposals “must be included” in any legislation addressing undocumented immigrants who had received protective status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, President Obama’s executive action.
Democrats, however, immediately rejected the plan. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement Sunday night: “This list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”
Numerous other Democrats echoed those criticisms, labeling the proposal a “nonstarter” or “dead on arrival.” Though Democrats rejected the White House outline, they suggested that a deal could still be struck in the coming months, but their positioning means Republicans and the White House would likely have to abandon many of the principles Trump outlined Sunday.
The White House signaled little flexibility on its proposal going forward. A senior administration official told reporters in a conference call that all elements of the plan were considered priorities.
“We believe that there’s still an opportunity to come to an agreement, but the White House and the president have to be reasonable,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said in a conference call Monday. “We’re looking for a serious proposal to come from President Trump. This was not serious.”
While Democrats bashed the White House plan, few Republicans elected to weigh in on the specifics. Speaker Paul Ryan has tasked a working group of lawmakers to address immigration legislation, and a spokesman said Monday that the group would review the White House principles.
Sen. Tom Cotton, a close ally of Trump’s who co-authored an immigration bill addressing changes that mirror those outlined in the proposal, praised the president’s proposal.
“I’m encouraged to see the president’s continued leadership on this issue and I stand ready to work with him and my colleagues to build an immigration system that supports the American worker and boosts our economy,” Cotton said.
Republicans and Democrats alike were skeptical of Cotton’s bill when it was released earlier this year, however, despite Trump endorsing it at a White House event. Democrats hope the path forward in negotiations to provide protections to DACA recipients sidesteps a deeper debate about the immigration system.
“There will be time to debate these deeply flawed immigration principles after Congress addresses the DACA crisis the administration itself created,” Sen. Dick Durbin, a key advocate for the DREAM Act, said Sunday night. Other Democrats have threatened to withhold their support for must-pass measures in the coming months, such as funding the government before a December deadline, as leverage for an agreement on immigration.
“We’re going to use every leverage point we have at our disposal to protect these Dreamers,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.