U.S. President Donald Trump, who pledged to work with Democrats to protect “Dreamers” – young people brought illegally to the United States as children – called on Sunday for money to fund a border wall and thousands more immigration officers to be part of any deal. Trump’s list of immigration “principles,” laid out in a document seen by Reuters, is likely to be a non-starter for Democrats, who are seeking a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump ended last month.
The proposal includes a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the United States, many of them from Central America. The plan was delivered to leaders in Congress on Sunday evening. The White House wants the wish list to guide immigration reform in Congress and accompany a bill to replace DACA, an Obama-era program that protected nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” from deportation and also allowed them to secure work permits.
The inclusion of border wall funding in the list could prompt Democrats to accuse Trump of rowing back earlier suggestions that he would keep the wall issue separate from an initiative to help DACA recipients. The White House priorities, if enacted, could result in the deportation of Dreamers’ parents. The proposals also include a request for funds to hire 370 more immigration judges; 1,000 attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency; 300 federal prosecutors and 10,000 additional ICE agents to enforce immigration laws.
“The president has made clear he wants Congress to act and pass responsible immigration reform in conjunction with any legislation related to DACA,” said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters. Trump told Congress it had six months to come up with legislation to help Dreamers, who are a fraction of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of whom are Hispanic.
The document calls for tighter standards for those seeking U.S. asylum, denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities” that serve as refuges for illegal immigrants, and a requirement that employers use an electronic verification system known as “E-Verify” to keep illegal immigrants from securing jobs.
Trump campaigned for president on a pledge to toughen immigration policies and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He vowed repeatedly that Mexico would pay for the wall, but began prodding Congress earlier this year to approve funding. Mexico has said it would not pay for the wall. Trump’s suggestion after a meeting with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives that wall funding would not have to be part of a DACA fix alarmed some of his supporters.
A White House official told Reuters on Sunday the principles were a guide for the legislative process it hopes Republicans and Democrats will take up. “Funding for the wall is a priority for the administration. Whether it is part of DACA or there is a different pathway to get it done, it will remain a priority,” he said, adding it would be up to Trump to determine what was negotiable and what was not in a future deal.
The official said the White House would be pushing for “legal status” for the Dreamer population but would not be advocating for citizenship. Republicans in Congress have introduced several bills that would include aspects of Trump’s priorities, but many Democrats and immigration groups see the proposals as too harsh.
The White House’s wish list targets the flow of unaccompanied minors into the United States. It would require such children to be treated the same, regardless of their countries of origin “so long as they are not victims of human trafficking and can be safely returned home or removed to safe third countries,” the White House document said.
It would also expand the list of “inadmissible aliens” to include members of gangs, those who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, and former spouses and children of drug and human traffickers if they receive benefits from such behavior. Trump’s White House so far has not been able to achieve a major legislative victory, casting doubt on the potential for a breakthrough on immigration reform, which Republican and Democratic presidents have tried before without success.
Trump’s Republicans have failed so far to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and a White House plan for tax reform still needs more support.