White House

Kushner floats deal of permanent protections for 1.8 million dreamers, LULAC chief says

Top White House adviser Jared Kushner told members of Latino advocacy organizations on Thursday that President Donald Trump was willing to give 1.8 million Dreamers permanent protections from deportation and to reopen the government in exchange for $25 billion in border security, including some wall funding, LULAC President Domingo Garcia said.

Officials from the League of United Latin American Citizens, Libre Initiative and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce met with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and briefly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — on Thursday to discuss ways to find a compromise in order to reopen the government.

“He basically wanted to find out what the Latino community would agree to, what were our red lines that we would not cross and which ones were negotiable,” Garcia told McClatchy.

The extraordinary side negotiations with Hispanic organizations happened while the Senate voted down two bills — one favored by Republicans and one by Democrats — that would have reopened the government, now shut for its 34th day. While Democrats have not budged from their opposition to the border wall, they also maintain that no negotiations should be conducted while the government remains shut down.

The $25 billion that Kushner raised with Garcia and others on Thursday reflects a much more comprehensive border enforcement package that would fund more security efforts than the wall, including more Border Patrol officers and interior enforcement.

Pelosi called that proposal and “non-starter” and Thursday, Kushner tried to up the ante by offering permanent protections in the form of a pathway to citizenship for not only those under an Obama-era deferred action program, known as DACA, but also hundreds of thousands more young immigrants who never got to apply or failed to renew their status when it expired.

Garcia said Kushner spent an hour with the group and was very engaged. Kushner cited Trump’s State of the Union address in 2017 where he indicated his support for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration,” Trump said during his 2017 State of the Union address. “Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States.”

But Democrats have shown little interest in budging from their position. They say they won’t negotiate until the government is reopened. They also say they can’t trust Trump, who they feel has broken multiple agreements they’ve made in the past that would have funded the wall in exchange for protections.

Indeed, last year Democrats offered $25 billion in border security in exchange for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, which Trump rejected. And the White House presented a plan last year to protect 1.8 million so-called Dreamers, but it also would have dramatically gutted the legal immigration system.

Garcia did not mention specific changes to the legal immigration system, but he said Kushner did mention the administration wanted to address concerns with the asylum system and adopt a more merit based immigration system.

If that part of the proposal is anything like the one suggested last year, it will quickly be met with criticism. Democrats and some moderate Republicans have already opposed efforts by the Trump administration to reduce current policies that reunite family members.

One immigration group last year estimated that Trump’s proposed changes would cut legal immigration levels by 50 percent.

At least one coalition of dreamers is pressing Democrats to come to the table and negotiate an end to the shutdown. Mohammad Abdollahi, co-founder of DreamActivist.org, questioned Democrats commitment to finding a solution and said undocumented immigrants can’t afford to continue being used as political pawns between both Democrats and Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it, we are not coming to the table because we want to, rather because we have no faith that Democrats will ever act on their promises,” Abdollahi said. “Under Democratic leadership, even when they controlled the House, Senate and the Presidency, we gained nothing but continued enforcement without a single concession in return.”

Garcia said it’s time for both Democrats and Republicans to engage in discussions. He said the community needs a permanent solution for dreamers and TPS holders. They also want an aid package for Central America. In exchange, they’re open to a $3 billion to $6 billion border security package that focuses on a “virtual barrier.”

But they don’t want any permanent wall. Kushner said some barrier was necessary.

Pressed about whether there was some middle ground on the wall issue, such as building wall in high traffic areas or extending some existing wall, Garcia said Democrats and Republicans would have to negotiate that point.

Garcia said Kushner made it clear that this was their opening bid and they were asking for the Democrats to come back with a counter, but they had not heard anything. Garcia said he also pushed to protect the parents of DACA-eligible children, but Kushner said that was too much.

“He said a smaller deal was better to open the government and we can work on a bigger deal at a later date in terms of the 13 million immigrants and comprehensive immigration reform,” Garcia said.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.
Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.