Hard-line White House immigration proposals could derail deal to protect 'Dreamers'

The Trump administration revealed a sweeping set of hard-line immigration demands Sunday night — including the building of a wall on the southern border and major changes to the legal immigration system — as trade-offs for legislation to protect the so-called Dreamers, a move that could kill prospects for a deal to protect roughly 700,000 young people now facing possible deportation.

The White House proposals would curb the ability of American citizens to sponsor family members to join them from abroad, upending decades of immigration policy, and put strict new limits on asylum claims. The list also includes increased money for border security and mandatory use of the government's E-Verify system for employers to ensure that workers they hire are legal residents.

Also on the list is a tighter crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, localities that decline to cooperate fully with federal immigration authorities. The list also included measures to more quickly remove minors who have crossed into the U.S. from Central America in recent years seeking asylum.

The proposal would reduce the number of permanent resident visas issued, lower the number of refugees accepted, restrict family-based green cards to spouses and minor children and create a point-based system for legal immigration. Administration officials would not say how much legal immigration would be reduced under the plan, but the impact would clearly be significant.

Democrats quickly denounced the proposals, saying they did not come close to what President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders had discussed over Chinese food last month at the White House when they struck a tentative deal for legislation to protect the Dreamers, young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally when they were children.

"This list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise," Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said in a statement. The wall, specifically, was off the table, Schumer and Pelosi have said.

Trump announced last month that he would end the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that provided a temporary legal status for the Dreamers, meaning that starting March 5, when the program expires, tens of thousands of them each week will face losing their jobs and possibly being deported.

Ever since Trump announced that he and “Chuck and Nancy” had discussed a possible legislative deal to protect the Dreamers, hard-line elements of his administration have worked with immigration restrictionists in Congress to derail the effort. The demands released Sunday reflected a wish list of their proposals, many of which are not only opposed by Democrats, but go far beyond what a majority of congressional Republicans would back.

If Trump insists on each of the proposals, the move would probably kill any prospect of legislation.

Whether the hard-line proposals truly reflect Trump’s views, however, remains uncertain — he advocated immigration restrictions during his campaign, but also repeatedly has said that he does not want to see the Dreamers deported.

Several critics of the White House plan emphasized on Sunday the hope that the proposals reflected only the views of advisors such as White House domestic policy chief Stephen Miller and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and that Trump would eventually back away from them.

"WH Immigration Principles drafted by Stephen Miller don't fully reflect @realDonaldTrump views," Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, wrote in a message on Twitter.

In Congress, many Republicans have warned that the complex problems with the nation's immigration system cannot be expected to be resolved in the short time before the DACA program expires. Diving into issues such as reducing the number of legal immigrants would make a deal impossible, several indicated last week.

Others, however, will be pushing Trump to maintain a hard line. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) called the White House offer a “serious proposal” and indicated support for tying DACA to a broader overhaul.

“We cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place,” he said.

Trump's advisors say that while they realize some of the proposals will be controversial, they represent what he ran on and intends to fight for.

They would not say which, if any, of their principles were deal-breakers in a comprehensive immigration agreement.

“We’re not discussing what's a veto threat right now," said one administration official who briefed reporters on the proposals on the condition that the official not be identified by name. "These are all priorities. They're all important to the nation’s security.”

Other administration officials insisted they were simply closing loopholes that endanger children subject to smuggling and protecting workers from unfair competition for low-end jobs.

"These requirements are truly essential to ensuring border security and national security,” said Ronald D. Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Congress has been struggling to devise a solution for the Dreamers ever since Trump announced he would phase out the DACA program.

The nearly 20-year-old Dream Act remains the top pursuit for Democrats, and what Trump, at dinner and on other occasions, has told the leaders he would sign into law. It would provide temporary legal protection for the young people. If they remain in good standing, pursuing education, jobs or military service, they would be able to start a path to eventual citizenship.

Several Republican bills, including measures proposed by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) follow similar, though more stringent, approaches that would ultimately result in legal status for the young immigrants. Those proposals have gained support in Congress, despite protests from some in the GOP who deride any path to citizenship as amnesty.

But an administration official said on Sunday that Trump would not sign a bill granting citizenship to Dreamers, as the Dream Act promises, only a lesser form of legal status.

noah.bierman@latimes.com

Twitter: @noahbierman

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