White House

Immigration advocates: DACA deal likely to give Trump his wall

People pass border wall prototypes as they stand near the border with Tijuana, Mexico in San Diego.
People pass border wall prototypes as they stand near the border with Tijuana, Mexico in San Diego. AP

Top immigrants’ rights advocates advising Democrats on Capitol Hill say any deal to protect Dreamers this month will have to allow President Donald Trump to take credit for a border wall.

Conceding that any eventual deal will need Trump’s blessing to win over Republicans in Congress, they laid out a list of border security measures Friday that they hope would allow Democrats to negotiate a deal they could attach to a bill to continue government spending after Jan. 19.

Lawmakers are trying to find a solution for the more than 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before Trump ends the program March 5.

Democrats in Washington have said they don’t want to trade a wall for protections for DACA recipients, who were brought into the country illegally by their parents as children. Republicans want any deal on DACA to correspond with increased border security. Some in the party also want to use the negotiations to overhaul the country’s legal immigration system.

Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of the immigration reform group America's Voice, told reporters Friday that the “deal space” on DACA likely includes Democrats signing off on “money for border security,” plus “some fence repair and augmentation.”

“Democrats will say, ‘we did not cave on a wall’, because it’s not going to be a concrete wall,” said Sharry. “Donald Trump will say, ‘I got my wall.’”

What exactly Trump will accept as a wall has been the subject of negotiations for months on Capitol Hill.

Texas Republicans introduced a border security package last summer that would add infrastructure in some places along the border, and use technology to monitor it in other places.

Four weeks into the Border Wall Prototype Construction Project, eight new wall prototypes were constructed near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry as of Oct. 19. This aerial view shows the walls being built. Otay Mesa is a community in San Diego.

Before Christmas, Senate negotiators requested the White House give them its specifications. When they returned to work in Washington this week, they still had not received a list.

Despite multiple proposals from lawmakers, GOP leaders say they’re paralyzed without input from Trump, who alone can tell his base what’s acceptable on immigration.

Trump huddled with Senate negotiators on DACA Thursday, and will meet with GOP leaders again over the weekend. They’re expected to produce the framework for a deal next week.

Immigrants’ rights advocates echoed Republicans’ calls Friday, saying they too need Trump’s buy-in for a deal.

“[Trump] should lead on this to show Republicans that this is a win,” said Mark Delich, director of congressional affairs for FWD.us, an immigration reform group.

Despite calls from progressives for a clean vote on the Dream Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, advocates at Friday’s meeting said they expect an eventual deal to have plenty of elements they dislike.

“Democrats have been very clear that they’re willing to accept significant, probably unnecessary, superfluous expansions of infrastructure, fencing, border roads, censors, technology, drones, that are in and of themselves kind of a waste of money,” said Marshall Fitz, managing director of immigration for the non-profit Emerson Collective.

Fitz said Democrats were united in opposing any deal that increases border patrol agents.

Republicans on Capitol Hill want to go much further than that.

Senate Republicans unveiled a package in November that made changes to family-based or chain migration, which allows green card holders to apply for visas for family members. It also sought to crack down on sanctuary cities.

In a meeting with Senate negotiators Thursday, Trump said he wanted any DACA deal to make good on his border wall, solve chain migration and end the diversity visa lottery system.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

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