White House wants hardline measures in return for deal on DACA
Democrats, Dreamers and advocates slam ‘immoral’ and ‘shameful’ list
by Lauren Gambino
The Trump administration on Sunday issued a list of hardline immigration demands, including funding for a wall on the Mexico border and a crackdown on admittance of children from Central America, as its first move in negotiations for a deal to allow young undocumented migrants known as Dreamers to stay in the US legally.
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Democrats rejected the list as “immoral” and “far beyond what is reasonable”, setting up a likely showdown in Congress. On Monday Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said if Republicans and the White House refused to back off, Democrats led by the CHC were prepared to derail legislation.
“They are not going to have Democrats to get them over the finish line on anything they need,” she said on a conference call with reporters, adding: “We’ll use every leverage point we have at our disposal to protect these Dreamers.”
Dreamers and groups who advocate for them also reacted with horror. Christian Ramírez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), said the decision to use Dreamers as a “bargaining chip” was “shameful”.
The list of principles also called for withholding federal grants for “sanctuary cities” and limiting legal immigration by issuing fewer family-based green cards to spouses and the minor children of US citizens and lawful permanent residents. It also demanded the creation of a points-based system for migrants to gain entry to the US.
On a call with reporters on Sunday, White House aides said the demands fulfilled campaign promises made by Donald Trump. As president, Trump has issued executive actions to restrict immigration that have included ramping up deportations and banning travelers and refugees from some Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.
Last month, the Trump administration announced plans to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program established by the Obama administration that issued renewable two-year permits to people brought to the country illegally as children, shielding them from deportation and allowing them to work and attend school. About 690,000 recipients are enrolled in the program. The last such work permits are due to expire in March 2018.
Congressional Democratic leaders had been optimistic about striking a deal. After a dinner with the president last month, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said they had agreed to consider bolstering immigration enforcement as part of a deal to codify the DACA program and give Dreamers legal status.
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“The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement on Sunday.
“We told the president at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the Dream Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise. The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so.”
Trump has previously said funding for the wall could be addressed separately and suggested that he did not expect it to be included in any DACA bill.
Lujan Grisham also condemned the decision to use the futures of hundreds of thousands of people to further White House policy goals. “It is immoral for the president to use the lives of these young people as bargaining chips in his quest to impose his cruel, anti-immigrant and un-American agenda on our nation,” she said in a statement.
On the White House call, a senior administration official said the agreement between the president and Democratic leaders had been mischaracterised. “There was a deal to work on a deal as fast as possible,” the official said.
Democrats and activists want any deal to include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The White House official said: “We are not interested in granting citizenship.”
The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner who announced the rollback of DACA, welcomed the proposals, which he said “will restore the rule of law to our immigration system, prioritize America’s safety and security, and end the lawlessness”.
“These are reasonable proposals that will build on the early success of President Trump’s leadership,” Sessions said in a statement. “This plan will work. If followed it will produce an immigration system with integrity and one in which we can take pride. Perhaps the best result will be that unlawful attempts to enter will continue their dramatic decline.”
Bruna Bouhid, a Dreamer and spokeswoman for the advocacy group United We Dream, said the list contradicted Trump’s past promises and showed immigration policy was being steered by Sessions and White House adviser Stephen Miller, not the president.
“With this wishlist it’s pretty clear who is controlling the White House,” Bouhid told the Guardian on Monday, adding that United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the US, would continue to push for legislation to protect Dreamers.
Ramirez, director of the SBCC, noted that one out of five Dreamers live in border communities and would be directly affected by more aggressive border patrols.
“The president has an obligation to act in the interest of the people of the United States and not in continuing to promote divisive policies that undermine our safety and fail to ignore the contributions of immigrants to our nation,” he said.
While Trump’s list will appeal to a number of conservative Republicans, some lawmakers in the party are wary of sweeping reforms.
At a Senate hearing last week, Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina who has proposed legislation to protect DACA recipients, warned: “If Congress has proven an extraordinary ability to do anything, it’s to fail at comprehensive immigration reform.” (The Guardian).