The Trump administration presented a much awaited immigration plan Thursday that would allow 1.8 million young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents a chance at citizenship, but which would also dramatically gut the legal immigration system.
The plan, first discussed a day before by President Trump in speaking with reporters, would protect not only those who had received protections under an Obama-era deferred action program, known as DACA, but hundreds of thousands more who never got to apply or failed to renew their status when it expired.
But — perhaps most significantly — the plan would also overhaul a key principle of American immigration policy aimed at keeping families together.
As additional bits of the plan began to leak out Thursday, Democrats and advocates geared up to fight any effort to reduce current policies that reunite family members abroad with those already here in the United States.
One immigration group estimated it would cut legal immigration levels by 50 percent.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said the administration included a pathway to citizenship to be the “sugar” on top of an otherwise largely conservative proposal he fears includes the largest cuts to legal immigration since the 1920s.
“This is not 50-50. This is not 60-40. This is 90-10,” he said. “They think they can exploit the desperation of Dreamers to enact most of their legislation.”
Senior administration officials promoted Trump’s plan as a “serious immigration reform bill” that included “dramatic concessions” by the White House.
“This truly represents a bipartisan compromise position,” a senior administration official said. “We have no doubt that this legislation outlined in the framework if brought to the floor, as Mr. McConnell said he would do, would easy garner 60 votes,” said the senior administration official.
The officials said they hoped the Senate would take up debate on the proposal as part of a bill the week of Feb 5.
On Wednesday, the administration indicated it would provide a pathway to citizenship for only the 690,000 so-called Dreamers who had been protected by the Obama-era program. It seemed overnight the administration expanded the program to 1.8 million including those who would have been eligible for the program, but weren’t able to apply or couldn’t renew.
A White House official said nothing changed overnight, but that they were not able to provide reporters the full details of the plan on Wednesday.
A pathway to citizenship for more than a million people once here illegally is already angering those who voted for Trump because he pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and end the DACA program granting temporary, renewable work permits to young immigrants.
“Yes, this framework addresses border security, chain migration over the long term, and eliminates the visa lottery,” RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement. “But let’s not kid ourselves, this is the framework of an expansive amnesty, not a limited DACA fix.”
Trump’s proposal to Congress also calls for enforcement measures that conservatives have long-wanted — $25 billion for a border security, including wall along the southwest border, and an end to the diversity lottery program that lets immigrants be awarded green cards. The young immigrants would receive legalization immediately and then a shot at citizenship after 10 to 12 years.
The proposal also does not appear to include any protections for the hundreds of thousands of nationals from Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations who are losing their special protective status, known as TPS. Trump pushed back on efforts to include them in a package during an infamous bipartisan meeting where he allegedly referred to them as “shithole countries.”
Congress voted to fund the government for nearly three weeks after Republican congressional leaders committed to take up immigration issues, including the fate of Dreamers, before Feb. 8.
The White House calls the proposal a starting point for negotiations. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made a last-minute decision to skip Trump’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week and stay in Washington to speak to lawmakers.
Some Democrats, including Dick Durbin, the Senate minority whip and a leader for Senate Democrats on Dreamers, praised Trump for his initial offer, but others questioned whether protections to dreamers were enough considering the other pieces of the plan.
“All the details really matter, but it depends on what the other alternatives are,” said a Democratic congressional staffer familiar with the matter. “Mass deportation for Dreamers? Maybe. Cuts to family and legal migration? Maybe. Mass deportation for everyone else? Maybe.”
Administration officials announced in September they would 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.
A White House official said Thursday the administration held dozens of meetings with members of Congress, both parties and both chambers. A second official estimated there were 10 times as many meetings as were made public.
A Senate Republican aide told McClatchy that 36 Senators from both parties attended a meeting Wednesday night in the Armed Services Committee hearing room to begin discussions on a bipartisan immigration proposal focusing specifically on a plan to protect DACA recipients from deportation and strengthen border enforcement.
“The clock is ticking on Dreamers and we don’t have time for extraneous issues that some on the right or the left might want to add that have nothing to do with DACA or border security,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said on the Senate floor.
Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain contributed.