Wall Street Journal
By Siobhan Hughes, Natalie Andrews, and Kristina Peterson
February 14, 2018
President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged senators to vote against any immigration proposal other than his own plan, courting a showdown with Republican and Democratic senators who oppose the White House’s desire to curb family-based migration and would like to cut a narrower deal.
A bipartisan plan released late Wednesday takes steps toward Mr. Trump’s goals, reflecting a new concession to the president by barring immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally from sponsoring their parents for citizenship. But the bipartisan plan, which also provides $25 billion for Mr. Trump’s proposed wall, falls short of meeting his demands. Voting could begin as soon as Thursday, forcing politically tough choices for both parties.
“We’re not there yet,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), a main negotiator, about whether the bipartisan plan had enough votes to pass. “We still have to solidify our caucus and…there are people with serious issues over this compromise,” he said, listing both the restrictions on the parents and the border wall as Democratic concerns. “Some believe this is unacceptable.”
Mr. Trump’s stance amounted to a demand that the Senate significantly cut legal immigration as part of any legislation. The impasse threatened to derail bipartisan efforts to craft a compromise in the Senate, as lawmakers faced dwindling time left in the week allotted to pass a bill protecting hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants.
In a statement Wednesday, the president urged senators to back his four-part plan, which has been translated into legislative text by a group led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa). Mr. Trump also said he wouldn’t accept any proposal that kicks a resolution down the road.
“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars—that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” Mr. Trump said.
The Trump plan provides a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally on the condition that Congress also provide $25 billion to secure the border; end a diversity visa lottery program aimed at immigrants from underrepresented countries; and restrict the ability of American citizens and permanent residents to sponsor relatives for green cards.
That fourth pillar—scaling back what detractors call “chain migration”—has become the most controversial component. Under current law, citizens can sponsor their spouses, children, parents and siblings, and green-card holders can sponsor spouses, minor children and unmarried sons or daughters of any age.
Mr. Trump would tighten those rules to allow sponsorship of only spouses and minor children—cutting out parents, adult children and siblings. Overall, the proposal would reduce legal immigration to the U.S. by about a third, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
New curbs to the family-based system face significant resistance from Democrats and many Republicans who believe legal immigrants have long defined the country’s history and help fuel the U.S. economy.
The catalyst for this week’s Senate debate was Mr. Trump’s decision last year to end an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shielded the young immigrants from deportations and provided work permits. Almost 700,000 young immigrants are beneficiaries of the program, with another 1.1 million eligible. Mr. Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a replacement.
Several bipartisan groups of senators this week have been considering narrower plans that omit portions of Mr. Trump’s plan.
Outlining the top bipartisan proposal emerging Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said it would provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, combined with and $25 billion in border security, but largely skip major changes to the legal immigration system sought by Mr. Trump.
In a modest concession to Mr. Trump, the bipartisan plan would also block legal permanent residents from petitioning the government for visas for unmarried adult children until the residents themselves become citizens. That affects a population of about 26,000 people each year. But senators said Wednesday that their proposal would preserve the diversity visa lottery program, which Mr. Trump wants to end.
“Seems to me the consensus is to have big border security and big DACA,” Mr. Graham said of the emerging bipartisan proposal. “To break the chain, we’re going to say that parents can’t be sponsored by the Dream Act child they brought in illegally.”
Another senator, Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), has floated a plan that would protect Dreamers from deportation for three years while also providing some money to secure the border.
Democrats said deep cuts to legal immigration were outside the scope of the current negotiations.
“President Trump is trying to force his unpopular hard-line immigration agenda down the throats of the American people by calling it a DACA bill,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
With Mr. Trump’s plan likely to fall short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate, senators said a compromise plan stood a better chance of passing in the chamber. But it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Trump would be willing to accept a narrower bill, if one were to pass this week.
Some Republican senators pushed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to schedule a vote on Mr. Trump’s version of an immigration overhaul before moving to alternatives. Many senators anticipate the Trump plan would fail to garner enough support to advance, but see a vote as needed to clear the field for rival plans to have a real chance of passing.
“The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be a vote on the president’s proposal,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). “That’s the one plan out there and it’s available and there should be a vote, and we should have it as soon as possible.”
Mr. McConnell so far hasn’t gone along. By Wednesday, he had laid the groundwork for a sequence in which lawmakers would vote on the bipartisan plan early on, with the Trump plan up for a vote last, positioning Democrats to potentially take the blame on the final vote if it fails. The exact sequence of votes could still change.
The White House’s allies in the Senate threw their weight behind Mr. Trump, describing his comments as defining what the final immigration bill must include if they want it to become law, rather than as a starting point for negotiations.
“He’s been pretty clear about what he’s requiring,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) said. “For those of us who actually would like to see something signed into law, it’s not irrelevant. It’s pretty significant.”
But other GOP senators seemed less willing to take Mr. Trump’s comments as a mandate.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R., S.D.), a member of the bipartisan group, said the shape of a Senate immigration bill should depend “on where the votes are at.” And he expressed some reservations about the effort to sharply curtail legal immigration.
“There’s a lot of us that truly believe just to maintain our status as a superpower, we need stable population here in the U.S. and we’re not there without legal immigration,” Mr. Rounds said.
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