WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump sent senators a lengthy set of demands on Friday that could tank a deal to help Dreamers ― young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children ― and might risk a government funding agreement in the process.
The document is essentially an immigration restrictionist wish list. It calls for a border wall, more immigration enforcement agents, punishment for so-called “sanctuary cities,” restrictions on citizens and legal residents sponsoring family members’ visas, and policies to make it easier to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. No dollar amounts were included in the list of demands, but The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Friday that Trump is seeking nearly $18 billion to pay for a border wall.
Democrats and immigrant rights activists have said they won’t accept the White House’s demands in a deal to grant legal status to Dreamers, hundreds of thousands of whom are at risk of losing deportation protections because Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.
The list could be enough to trigger a Democratic revolt on a government funding bill that needs to pass later this month, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), whose office shared the White House’s list with reporters, said in a statement.
“President Trump has said he may need a good government shutdown to get his wall,” Durbin said. “With this demand, he seems to be heading in that direction. ... It’s outrageous that the White House would undercut months of bipartisan efforts by again trying to put its entire wish-list of hardline anti-immigrant bills—plus an additional $18 billion in wall funding—on the backs of these young people.”
Trump ended DACA in September and said Congress should act to give more permanent protections to recipients of the two-year work permits and deportation relief. DACA recipients will begin to lose permits in greater numbers in March, although activists estimate they’re already losing them at a rate of about 122 per day.
In the months since Trump ended the program, the White House has put out long lists of immigration priorities, and Trump has made broad pronouncements in public comments and tweets, largely focused around building a wall, ending the diversity visa lottery and eliminating so-called “chain migration,” immigration restrictionists’ preferred term for family reunification visas.
The list of demands was initially created in October, with Stephen Miller, a Trump policy adviser, listed as the author of the document, according to the properties on the PDF file. But senators didn’t get a copy until Friday.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the document.
Democrats have said they are willing to give Trump some of what he wants on border security, such as more infrastructure, technology and funds, in exchange for legal status for Dreamers. But they, and Dreamers themselves, have argued any deal must be proportional — not everything Republicans want in exchange for legal status for one subset of the undocumented population. During comprehensive immigration reform efforts in 2013, for example, Democrats agreed to an overhaul of the legal immigration system, border security measures and enforcement as part of a package that would have also granted a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for much of the undocumented immigrant population.
Democrats, activists and even some Republicans have warned that piling on more immigration issues has the potential to sink a deal — it happened during past reform efforts and could again now.
The document the White House sent to senators on Friday could indicate the administration either thinks it can get Democrats to settle because of their desire to help Dreamers, or that it doesn’t really want a deal at all.
“I am not a bargaining chip for Stephen Miller’s vendetta against brown and black people. Offering up my safety in exchange for the suffering of immigrant families is sick and we won’t stand for it.”
The demands include ending the diversity visa lottery and limiting refugee intake, as well as allowing citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor only minor children and spouses for green cards ― shutting out the ability to bring over adult children or siblings. Trump has disparaged both the diversity visa lottery and “chain migration” as dangerous by citing two terror incidents allegedly perpetrated by people who entered through those programs, although there is no evidence there is a greater risk of terror by immigrants with those visas.
The White House also asked for funds to hire 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and to give local police more authority to assist with deportation efforts. Another priority is to more easily penalize “sanctuary cities,” the loose term for jurisdictions that don’t fully cooperate with immigration enforcement, often because they view it as bad for community policing or because of constitutional concerns.
The list also includes changing policies for people seeking asylum and for unaccompanied children apprehended at the border, restricting relief and making it easier to quickly deport them. It would also mandate E-Verify, a system that allows employers to check immigration status of would-be hires, something immigrant advocates and some business interests oppose because there currently is no pathway for many undocumented people in the U.S. to get status and some industries say they can’t find enough willing legal workers.
The White House is hosting a bipartisan group for immigration discussions next week, and separate discussions between a group of Senate Republicans and Democrats continue. It’s not yet clear whether Democrats will insist that a Dreamer deal be part of a government funding package — Durbin and other members of the party voted against a short-term bill in December because of the issue and likely would again, but other Democrats might vote with Republicans for fear of being blamed for a shutdown.
Immigrant rights activists said Friday that they are confident Democratic leaders are committed to getting a Dreamer bill passed ― and they wouldn’t acquiesce to a deal that grants legal status to young people while hurting the rest of the undocumented population.
“I am not a bargaining chip for Stephen Miller’s vendetta against brown and black people,” Greisa Martinez Rosas, a DACA recipient and advocacy director for United We Dream, said in a statement. “Offering up my safety in exchange for the suffering of immigrant families is sick and we won’t stand for it. Trump said he wants to reach a solution but this is a tactic of people who want to blow up progress, not of people who are serious about solving problems.”