President Donald Trump’s proposal to offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship flouts the hardline immigration rhetoric of his campaign. But many of his voters are cautiously supportive anyway.
A new proposal the White House will offer to Congress includes enforcement measures that conservative have long-wanted — full funding of a border wall and significant cuts to two controversial programs, chain migration and the diversity lottery program.
Ben Marchi, a Trump supporter who was a delegate to the GOP National Convention in 2016, said that most of the more than 100 Republicans who sat on the platform committee alongside him knew that a pathway to citizenship could be on the table as part of an immigration deal.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking any conservatives like the idea, but it’s a good deal,” Marchi said. “It’s not like anyone should be surprised that the man who wrote ‘Art of the Deal’ is all about the deal.”
Trump won the presidency in 2016 largely on a campaign focused on cracking down on illegal immigration and ending an Obama-era program that allowed so-called Dreamers receive temporary, renewable work permits.
But in an impromptu meeting with reporters late Wednesday Trump reversed course and said he would offer 690,000 young immigration who came into the country illegally as children legal status immediately and citizenship in 10 to 12 years.
In return, the plan calls for $25 billion for a wall, $5 billion for additional security and reductions to the chain migration system 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.
“As long as there is criteria for the Dreamers, then most people are not opposed to it, as long as we get a wall, stop the chain migration, the illegal invasion,” said Deborah Tamargo, the vice president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women.
Members of Congress have complained for months that the White House has failed to provide its own immigration proposal even as Trump has appeared supportive of some proposals only to back out of them later.
The White House did not provide the entire plan Wednesday, but will release additional details Thursday and a full framework Monday, officials said. Aides will travel to Capitol Hill to speak to lawmakers Thursday.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been pushing for enforcement measures for years, said the proposal Trump outlined was familiar. “That seems along lines of what administration has insisted on from the beginning,” he said.
Krikorian said that if the enforcement pieces are large enough to reduce immigration then the deal would be worthwhile. He said he was not bothered by the pathway to citizenship, which he described as “ripping the Band-Aid off and getting it over with.”
The proposal is clearly a fresh starting point as the White House tries to negotiate the best deal it can get. Earlier this week, Trump aides said they would be willing to provide legal status to many more Dreamers — 1.2 million of them — as part of a broader immigration deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Former State Rep. Mike Hill of Florida and a Trump supporter said he would be open to citizenship for Dreamers — perhaps in 25 years instead of 10 to 12 years — if the president got enough in return. “Those are things good to put out the table,” he said.
Administration officials announced in September they will completely shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program March 5, a move designed to give Congress time to pass a legislative fix.
Certainly, there is the potential for a backlash. The end result of any eventual immigration bill that Trump supports could trigger push back from his base.
And even now, Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who unsuccessfully primaried Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014 and has weighed running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, said that he remains “firm in my opposition to DACA” despite Trump's remarks.
“Amnesty would invite more illegals and disadvantage American workers," he said, when asked about Trump's comments regarding Dreamers. “When you reward bad behavior, you get more of it.”
By Wednesday night, the hardline outlet Breitbart — which Trump's ex-chief strategist, Steve Bannon, used to lead — was referring to the president as "Amnesty Don."
Conservative strategist Ned Ryun noted that promises of a border wall and a tougher stance on illegal immigration were core parts of Trump's campaign message. “If he concedes on some of these things with regards to citizenship without securing the other things, I think his base feels very disappointed. Some might even feel betrayed," he said.
Robert Graham, the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and a Trump ally, acknowledged that some conservatives might see Trump's proposed approach as smacking of “amnesty.” But Trump has a very strong standing with the GOP base — around 80 percent of Republicans approve of the job he's doing — and Graham added that positive economic news would serve as a buffer to any GOP pushback.
“There may be a bunch in the base who are extremely dissatisfied with this decision, but I would say the larger pocket, even within Republican conservatives overall, is going to give him an A+ for his presidency,” he said. “Some people will be disappointed but I don't think he loses any significant support as the president and for his reelection.”
JoAnn Fleming, a Texas-based conservative activist who is willing to express criticisms of the president when she disagrees with him, noted that Trump at times changes positions rapidly in the process of negotiating. "Instead of tearing my hair out every day, I'm sort of just waiting to see what it looks like," she said of an immigration framework.