Completion of Border Wall Among Trump's Demands in Exchange for Extending DACA

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On Sunday night, the White House released a list of immigration reforms that it would demand in exchange for a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. as children. The proposal includes cuts to legal immigration, and cracking down on sanctuary cities, and—right at the top of the list—“completing construction of a wall along the southern border of the United States.” It’s a list of proposals Democrats have already indicated they’re unwilling to accept, raising questions about the future of the deal they struck with Trump last month to extend DACA.

During a call with reporters, a senior administration official also said the administration is “not interested in granting citizenship” in a DACA deal.

The administration’s asks are the culmination of Trump’s campaign pledges to crack down on immigration—and a response to simmering frustrations among advocates of reduced immigration. Indeed, the plan satisfies many of the requests made by immigration hardliners at the start of the Trump presidency, but in doing so, also throws a wrench in attempts to come to an agreement on legislation to provide legal status to young undocumented immigrants.

“DHS frontline personnel identified many of the principles outlined today, including closing loopholes in our ability to enforce immigration laws and eliminating the magnets for illegal immigration. I look forward to working with Congress on legislation that will enact many of these common sense and necessary reforms that will inevitably better secure our nation,” said Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke in a statement. 

Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser and a supporter of hardline immigration reform, reportedly began working on a proposal, after Democratic leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, announced they had come to an agreement on DACA with Trump. In September, the administration said that it would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and allowed them to work legally in the country, with a six-month delay in response to pressures from state attorneys general. The negotiations thereafter, which included enhanced border security in exchange for DACA legislation, infuriated immigration restrictionists, who see enforcement alone as low-hanging fruit.

“We would absolutely not support anything—nor do we think our activists would support—a DACA amnesty for enforcement,” Chris Chmielenski, the director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, which advocates for reduced immigration, told me.

But if that was a non-starter for immigration hardliners, the new proposal is likely to be the same for lawmakers tasked with finding a permanent legislative solution to DACA within the window provided by the administration.

“When I see these principles, it’s nothing but a menu of options that obviously the president campaigned on but is by no means representative of a fair deal or bargain when comes to the DREAM Act,” said Juan Escalante, the digital campaigns manager at America’s Voice and a DACA recipient, adding that “if there’s going to be a negotiation, it has to be something that doesn’t raise the stakes on the parents of Dreamers and the immigrant community at large.”

The White House’s proposal also appears to include elements of the RAISE Act, which Trump publicly supported in August. The proposal calls for ending “extended-family chain migration by limiting family-based green cards to spouses and minor children” replacing it with what it describes as “a merit-based system that prioritizes skills and economic contributions over family connections.”

The RAISE Act likewise proposes a merit-based immigration system, and targets the family reunification component of the 1965 Immigration Act by giving visa preference only to immediate family, calling for a 50 percent reduction in legal immigration levels over a decade. Democrats have opposed similar measures in the past, as have some Republican lawmakers. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has stayed mum on the bill—signaling the measure’s divisiveness among his party members. Still, its inclusion in the White House plan at all is notable.

The RAISE Act is reminiscent of recommendations made in the 1990s to overhaul the U.S. immigration system following a significant uptick of immigrants. The commission charged with reviewing U.S. policies recommended cuts to legal immigration, but those proposals were shot down after a veto threat from the Clinton White House. Since then, those proposals have largely been relegated to the sidelines. Trump’s election provided an opportunity to bring them into the mainstream.

Passing the RAISE Act is “non-negotiable,” said Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Stein, as well as other advocates of reduced immigration, argue that any legislation that would provide legal status to a segment of the undocumented population—in this case, DACA recipients—needs to be balanced with changes to the U.S. immigration system.

Restrictionists point to legislation passed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, which granted citizenship to undocumented immigrants in the United States. The measure led to a significant uptick of the foreign-born population, in part because of ineffective enforcement measures.

Immigration hardliners are concerned about a similar result occurring with the passage of DACA legislation. “There is this broad support to help out the DACA recipients. We have to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes,” Chmielenski told me last week, referring to the aftermath of the 1986 bill.

The onus is on Trump. While Congress is the only entity that can alter the nation’s immigration laws, some immigration restrictionists wonder where Trump will draw the line. “I am pleased to see that they’ve laid out the elements of constructive immigration changes, assuming this is all correct,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, citing a Politico report on the proposal last week. “What we still don’t know is how hard a bargain they’re going to drive. Where’s the red line in negotiating for a DACA fix?”

The list provided by the White House is sure to divide Republicans, many of whom have backed the notion of codifying DACA protections. Some GOP lawmakers conceded that a debate on legal immigration would hinder attempts to pass any measure. “Once we start getting into the legal immigration debate and what the appropriate fixes are there, we’re in danger of getting into the comprehensive immigration reform debate, which leaves us basically empty-handed,” Majority Whip John Cornyn told Huffington Post.

Democrats, on the other hand, have expressed a willingness to accept border security measures, but have pushed back against a border wall. Schumer denounced the list on Twitter shortly after its release Sunday.

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