WASHINGTON - The White House on Sunday night released an aggressive list of priorities for any deal to protect young undocumented immigrants in limbo -- a list that could make a deal almost impossible to reach if it is strictly followed.
The Trump administration has asked lawmakers to include tough border security and immigration enforcement measures in any deal to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program the administration is ending. Those measures include provisions to make it harder for unaccompanied minors to enter the country illegally, money for the President's border wall and cuts to legal immigration.
Trump announced he would end the Obama-era DACA program, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, at the beginning of last month, but gave Congress a six-month window in which to act to make the program permanent. Trump has repeatedly said he wanted border security measures as part of a deal, but Sunday night was the first time lawmakers were able to see the full list of the White House asks.
The list represents Republican priorities for immigration and border security, such as tightening the standard for asylum protections, beefing up staffing, cracking down on sanctuary cities, expanding the ways would-be immigrants can be rejected and cutting back significantly on the number of ways that immigrants can obtain green cards in the US by restricting family categories and transforming the employment-based system.
While Democrats have signaled an openness to some deal on DACA and border security, many of the proposals alone would be deal-breakers. Democrats are almost certainly needed to pass a bill to clear the filibuster threshold of 60 votes in the Senate and to make up for Republicans in both chambers who may decline to vote for any path to citizenship or legalization for DACA recipients.
What will be key, one Democratic congressional staffer said, is how hard the White House pushes for the wish list.
"Depends on whether they're serious or just positioning," the staffer said. "If it's the latter, and they leave themselves a lot of room to move, then maybe we can still negotiate something. The problem is that they could lock themselves in politically and then not be able to bend."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were quick to pan the list, saying it shows Trump "can't be serious" about reaching a deal if they start with proposals that are "anathema" to immigrants and Democrats.
"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," the Democratic leaders said in a statement, referring to discussions over dinner at the White House last month. "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."
While Trump has Republican supporters on Capitol Hill who have endorsed a similar wish list of measures, even among his own party, lawmakers have pleaded with the White House not to seek a comprehensive immigration reform package before dealing with DACA -- for which permits begin expiring March 6.
At a hearing in the Senate last week with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, both Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who have proposed different DACA measures, implored the officials not to seek a complete immigration deal before any action. Durbin said it was "too much" to "put the burden" on a DACA bill to answer all of the issues on the table.
"It's too much to ask ... and I hope you'll take that message back," Durbin said.
Responding to the general principles articulated at the hearing, Tillis said: "It reads like a laundry list for comprehensive immigration reform, and if Congress has proven an extraordinary ability to do anything, it's to fail at comprehensive immigration reform."