WASHINGTON (CN) – President Trump proposed a set of sweeping and rigid immigration reforms Sunday that he said must be included in any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
The proposed reforms could set up a showdown with Democrats over the future of these younger undocumented immigrants, known as “dreamers,” whose parents brought them here unlawfully as children.
Trump’s proposals call for funding to construct the border wall, which is estimated to cost more than $25 billion, along with a crackdown on unaccompanied minors, sanctuary cities and visa overstays, and a shift in legal immigration that would prioritize merit over family connections.
While President Trump campaigned on many of these policy ideas, he has never before connected them to the fate of the Dreamers.
“Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end,” Trump wrote in a letter to Congress Sunday night.
Democratic minority leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York – both of whom hoped to forge a deal with Trump to protect the dreamers – quickly denounced the proposals.
“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,” their Sunday night statement said.
Trump called the DACA program, which provides nearly 700,000 recipients with temporary protection from deportation and two-year work permits, “unconstitutional” last month, and said he would phase the program out in six months.
In a Sept. 5 tweet, the president suggested that he favored legalizing DACA recipients: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do.) If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
Pelosi and Schumer had met with the president over dinner last month, after which all emerged saying they had a rough agreement for a deal on DACA. At the time, Trump had said he was willing to take funding for the border wall off the table on any DACA legislation, while Pelosi and Schumer had agreed to reasonable measures to secure the border as part of any deal on the dreamers.
When speaking to reporters on the south lawn of the White House last month, Trump had said the wall would happen, suggesting that money for the wall could be included in a separate bill at a later time: “DACA now, and the wall very soon.”
Pelosi and Schumer said the proposed reforms released Sunday are a reversal of what they had agreed upon with the president.
“This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise,” their statement said.”The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations.”
Trump had drawn heavy criticism for his willingness to work with Democrats on DACA from conservatives, who accused him of abandoning the hard-line immigration stance he hyped during the campaign.
The proposals he released Sunday are more in line with that platform.
Number two on Trump’s wish list, behind the border wall, is a change to current law that would stem the flow of unaccompanied minors into the U.S. and make it easier to deport them, rather than releasing them to undocumented family members in the U.S.
Under current law, children from Mexico and Canada get fewer protections than those from noncontiguous countries, like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where minors have fled gang violence.
The change would require all such children to be treated the same, provided “they are not victims of human trafficking and can be safely returned home or removed to safe third countries.”
Trump has also called for a boost in fees collected at border crossings, and for money to add 10,000 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents and 370 immigration judges to help alleviate the backlog of immigration cases.
President Trump also wants legislation that would block so-called sanctuary cities from getting federal grants or entering cooperative agreements with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
Taking aim at long-standing legal immigration policies, Trump additionally called for an end to family-based immigration, which the administration claimed in a memo Sunday night is responsible for “most low-skilled immigration.”
Under Trump’s proposal, only spouses and minor children would be eligible for family-based green cards; all other immigration would be based on a point system.
Trump would also do away with the diversity visa lottery, which grants 50,000 visas to foreign nationals with no ties to the U.S., and suggested he would favor reducing annual refugee admissions, which the administration said “needs to be realigned with American priorities.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions applauded the president’s proposals Sunday night.
“These are reasonable proposals that will build on the early success of President Trump’s leadership,” he 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.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also expressed support for the proposals, saying in a statement they would end vulnerabilities in the immigration system that hinder national security efforts.
“The State Department will do its part by, among other measures, continuing to crack down on passport fraud, making sure all visa applicants are thoroughly screened, and putting pressure on countries to curb illegal immigration at the source,” Tillerson said.