The Trump administration has issued a list of hardline immigration demands that includes funding for a wall along the southern border and a crackdown on Central American minors as part of a deal to allow young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers to stay in the country legally.
Democrats immediately rejected the administration’s priorities as “far beyond what is reasonable”, setting up a likely showdown in the Congress as lawmakers are set to begin negotiations about Dreamers, the hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country illegally as children.
The list of principles, which were sent to Congressional leaders on Sunday night, called for withholding federal grants for “sanctuary cities” and limiting legal immigration by issuing fewer family-based green cards to spouses and the minor children of US citizens and lawful permanent residents. It also demanded the creation of a points-based system for migrants to gain entry to the US.
On a conference call with reporters on Sunday night, White House aides said the administration’s demands fulfilled the promises Donald Trump made during his campaign to clamp down on immigration and protect American workers. As president, Trump has taken a series of executive actions to restrict immigration that has included ramping up deportations and banning people and refugees from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.
Last month, the Trump administration abruptly announced plans to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program established by the Obama administration that shielded the young people from deportation and allowed them m to work on renewable two-year permits. About 690,000 recipients are currently enrolled in the program, and their work permits are due to expire in March 2018.
Congressional Democratic leaders had previously been optimistic about striking a deal with Donald Trump that would protect the young immigrants. After a dinner with the president last month, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said they had agreed to consider bolstering immigration enforcement as part of a deal that codified the Daca program and gave the immigrants legal status.
“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,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
“We told the president at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the Dream Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.
“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.”
The Democrats said the deal he discussed with the president did not include funding for a wall, which the party has repeatedly said is a non-starter. Trump has previously said that funding for the wall could be addressed separately and suggested that he did not expect it to be included in a Daca bill.
On the call, a senior administration official said the agreement between the president and Democratic leaders were mischaracterized.
“There was a deal to work on a deal as fast as possible,” the official said.
Democrats and immigration activists also want any deal to include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. On the call, the official said: “We are not interested in granting citizenship.”
The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner who announced the rollback of the Daca program last month, welcomed the proposals, which he said: “will restore the rule of law to our immigration system, prioritize America’s safety and security, and end the lawlessness”.
“These are reasonable proposals that will build on the early success of President Trump’s leadership. This plan will work,” Sessions said in a statement. “If followed it will produce an immigration system with integrity and one in which we can take pride. Perhaps the best result will be that unlawful attempts to enter will continue their dramatic decline.”
While Trump’s wish list will appeal to a number of conservative Republicans, some lawmakers in his party are wary of attaching sweeping reforms to a package that also protects these young immigrants.
At a Senate hearing last week, Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina who has proposed legislation to protect DACA recipients, warned: “If Congress has proven an extraordinary ability to do anything, it’s to fail at comprehensive immigration reform.”