White House

Trump open to expanding Dreamer protection to 1.2 million despite campaign vow

Demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Washington, on the second day of the federal shutdown. Democrats have been seeking a deal to protect the "Dreamers," who have been shielded against deportation by DACA, which President Donald Trump halted last year.
Demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Washington, on the second day of the federal shutdown. Democrats have been seeking a deal to protect the "Dreamers," who have been shielded against deportation by DACA, which President Donald Trump halted last year. AP

The White House has tentatively agreed to provide legal status to as many as 1.2 million so-called Dreamers — far more than the 690,000 currently protected under an expiring Obama-era program — as part of a broader immigration deal, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.

The agreement is likely to anger those who voted for President Donald Trump because he pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and end the program granting temporary, renewable work permits to young immigrants.

Ron Woodard, who leads the pro-enforcement immigration advocacy group N.C. Listen in Cary, said he worries that Trump and other Republicans are going soft on immigration. Woodard said any amnesty is wrong, but if pursued must be limited and include strong enforcement measures.

“If a deal was to be considered, I would be outraged if it was over 680,000,” Woodard said. “It’s like here we go again with another amnesty with people who are not even part of real DACA. This Dreamer thing, I call it a bad dream for America.”

The 1.2 million figure would include immigrants who would be eligible under the original criteria for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. Those are individuals brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and who were still under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. The tentative agreement would broaden the DACA population by adding individuals who meet the criteria even if they didn’t apply for the program offering temporary, renewable work permits or allowed their status to expire.

“There's some areas where we have given some ground, which is, they want a broader definition of that DACA population,” Marc Short, director of legislative affairs, said at a White House briefing this weekend. “To me, that is progress.”

Seeking a bipartisan compromise to avoid a government shutdown, President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that an immigration deal could be reached in two phases - first by addressing young immigrants and border security with what he called a "bill

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday the White House is open to providing legal status for dreamers but declined to say whether they're open to citizenship.

This is something that we're going to work on with Congress and look for the best solution for our country. Don't forget, a big priority for this administration is making sure we address this program in its entirety, not just that one piece of it

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders

White House officials appear to be willing to enlarge the Dreamer population as long as they get stronger enforcement measures that they and Republicans have been asking for in return, such as changes to chain migration that allows immigrants to help get other immigrants, such as relatives, into the United States and the diversity visa lottery program that lets immigrants be awarded green cards.

Still, Republicans risk getting criticized for offering any relief to Dreamers so they might as well go ahead and work with the larger population now and avoid a similar situation down the road, a senior Republican aide involved in the immigration negotiations said. “Why go through all this again?” the aide asked.

Department of Homeland Security statistics show that 690,000 immigrants were enrolled in the DACA program in September 2017 and that nearly 800,000 people had been granted DACA status since August 2012. More than 100,000 have not renewed or were able to change their status through other measures.

Congressional leaders agreed to voted take up the issue of immigration, including protections or so-called Dreamers, before Feb. 8

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been pushing for enforcement measures for years, said “mercy” is warranted for those who took a risk by applying for DACA but not the others who never came forward. “The people who didn’t come forward are out of luck,” he said.

Krikorian said any increase to the Dreamer population in an immigration deal would have to be offset with additional security measures, such ending chain migration, curbing the diversity visa lottery program and mandating E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check work authorization.

Other groups advocating for greater enforcement, including NumbersUSA, are waiting to see what else the administration secures in return for allowing Dreamer protections.

Administration officials announced in September they will completely shut down the DACA program March 5, a move designed to give Congress time to pass a legislative fix. The administration said DACA was the product of an unconstitutional use of executive authority as the Trump administration was threatened with lawsuits from Texas and other states.

Senate Democrats forced a shutdown of the federal government Friday when Republicans would not agree to include protections for Dreamers as part of a spending bill. On Monday, the third day of the partial shutdown, Congress voted to fund the government for nearly three weeks after Republican congressional leaders committed to take up immigration issues, including Dreamers, before Feb. 8.

Expanding the Dreamer population now may seem politically counter-intuitive for some immigration hardliners in the wake of the apparent GOP immigration-related victory in the government shutdown standoff with Democrats.

We’ve made no bones about it. We want the Dream Act

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group

The focus on 1.2 million immigrants is unlikely to make either side of the debate happy. Those fighting for stronger enforcement don’t want the Dreamer population to exceed 690,000. They see a reasonable solution in House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s immigration bill, which would provide relief to those already under DACA protection, while implementing all of the security measures the White House wants — and a few more, including cracking down on sanctuary cities and mandating E-verify.

Immigration advocates want larger concessions and point to the Dream Act, introduced by Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, which would protect 1.7 million Dreamers. Those eligible would include immigrants who arrived before they were 18, lived in the U.S. for four years before the bill went into effect and been admitted to college or obtained a GED/high school diploma.

"Dreamers," supporters marched up to the front doors of Senator Marco Rubio's district office in Doral, but were denied access due to the government shutdown and Sen. Rubio's presence in Washington, D.C. to vote on the government shutdown on Monda

Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said he’d be disappointed if Democrats accepted anything less than protecting the 1.7 million Dreamers.

“The central demand that we start with and end with is the Dream Act because it allows people to age in and picks up more people who are in a similar situation,” he said. “We’ve always fought for the Dream Act.”

Sharry emphatically said that granting protection to 1.2 million Dreamer immigrants is not enough and pushed back when it was described as an increase. “It’s not an increase,” he said.

There are other measures, such as the RAC act, introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, which would protect 1.4 million Dreamers, and the Succeed Act, introduced by Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, which would protect 1.25 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has a similar proposal that includes border security that would protect 1.4 million.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez