The list will certainly turn off Democrats and even Republicans — many of whom have endorsed providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.
President Donald Trump laid out his immigration principles for Capitol Hill on Sunday — a list of hardline policies that could seriously complicate the prospects of striking a deal with Democrats over the future of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
“The priority for Congress ought to be to save American lives, protect American jobs and improve the well-being of American communities. These reforms accomplish that,” a senior administration official told reporters on Sunday night. “They live up to the president’s campaign commitment to have an immigration system that puts the needs of hardworking Americans first.”
The broad parameters of the immigration wish list have been telegraphed in recent days. But some of the key provisions run counter to an agreement Democratic leaders believed they’d struck with Trump during a White House dinner last month.
On Sunday, Trump called on Congress to build a wall along the southern border — a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, which was premised on tougher immigration policies. But Democratic leaders left the dinner believing that Trump would not demand a border wall in exchange for signing legislation to provide legal status to immigrants who obtained protection from deportation and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Trump announced in September that he would wind down the Obama-era immigration executive action starting in March, throwing the onus to Congress to codify DACA into law and launching in earnest an immigration battle in Washington.
The list will certainly turn off Democrats and even Republicans — many of whom have endorsed providing a pathway to legal status for “Dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors. The White House said Sunday it was not interested in providing citizenship to DACA beneficiaries, even though the main proposals for Dreamers on Capitol Hill would allow a pathway to citizenship.
In a letter to Congress, Trump said these policy priorities “must be included as part of any legislation addressing” DACA because without the changes, “illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”
But on Sunday, administration officials left some space to sign DACA legislation that did not include the entirety of the lengthy list of demands. The senior administration official said “we’re not discussing what’s a veto threat right now” and instead asking lawmakers “to move on [the principles] as expeditiously as possible.”
Two White House officials said the administration sees its immigration principles — which Trump was not deeply involved in writing; they were crafted by domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller — as an opening bid for an eventual DACA deal that may look dramatically different from the demands laid out Sunday evening.
The principles note that Congress passed legislation to erect a fence along the southern border in 2006, but that boundary was never finished — words meant to pressure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) since he voted for that bill.
The principles also include an overhaul of the asylum system, including tougher penalties for asylum fraud, and speedier deportations for unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border. Current laws allow unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Canada or Mexico to stay in the United States, usually with a sponsor, until they can get a hearing in immigration court. That process can take years.
The administration is also calling for cutting off key federal grants for sanctuary cities, empowering state and local governments to enforce immigration law and requiring employers to use E-Verify, a workplace verification system that checks whether an employee can work legally in the United States. Such policies that beef up interior enforcement are deal-breakers for Democrats and had been ruled out at Trump’s dinner with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), according to Democrats.
Trump wants 370 new judges to oversee immigration cases, as well as 1,000 additional attorneys at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 10,000 more ICE agents to ramp up deportation efforts. Some of these provisions are a boost from what the administration has previously proposed; for instance, Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget had called for adding just over 200 people to ICE’s prosecution office.
The list also calls for an overhaul of the legal immigration system by allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor only spouses and minor children for permanent residency and creating a points-based merit system for green cards.
The administration also wants lawmakers to end the diversity visa lottery — which doles out visas to immigrants from countries traditionally underrepresented in the United States — and to set the ceiling for refugees “at an appropriate level.” The White House plans to limit the number of refugees in fiscal 2018 to just 45,000 — the lowest level since at least 1980.
The changes to the legal immigration system are “so crucial,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna said Sunday, because “American workers are getting deeply disadvantaged by the current status quo.”
Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement Sunday that the new list of immigration principles went beyond the reasonable border security measures she and Schumer had said they would allow.
“The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” the Democrats said. “The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said House lawmakers would review Trump’s principles and continue talking to the administration about legislation. Ryan has convened a working group of influential House Republicans on immigration policy to work on a congressional response to the imminent end of DACA.
Josh Dawsey, Josh Gerstein and Ted Hesson contributed to this report.