WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans said Thursday that President Donald Trump has ruled out what some consider the best hope for undocumented young people who could face deportation because of him: attaching protections for the the so-called Dreamers to an omnibus government spending bill.
The hard line, if Trump and his party stick to it, will likely lead to a government shutdown fight. Some Democrats have said they won’t support a spending bill in December, when current government funding expires, without protections for Dreamers, setting the stage for the possible shutdown.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Republicans likely won’t address the status of Dreamers ― undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children ― until January or February. He was among the Senate Republicans who met with the president earlier Thursday.
The Dreamer issue “is not going to be part of the year-end omnibus ... and it’s not going to be done on a standalone basis,” Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol. “I think everybody understands that, but they just want to deny the reality. But that’s what’s going to happen.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who also attended the meeting with Trump, said, “We definitely ruled out putting any kind” of protections for Dreamers in an omnibus spending bill. “Period. End of story.”
Instead, dealing with the Dreamers must be part of larger legislation that addresses other immigration issues, he said.
Nearly 700,000 young immigrants are at risk of losing deportation protections and work authorization because of Trump’s decision in October to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The program allows young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay and work legally on a temporary basis.
The party line from the president and Republicans has been that Congress had six months from Trump’s announcement on ending DACA to come up with a plan to prevent large-scale deportations. After the six-month period, larger numbers of DACA recipients who the president barred from renewing their status will begin to lose it. In reality, though, DACA recipients are already being affected by the decision.
Trump’s decision to end the program prevented anyone without protections from receiving them. It also will lead to some current recipients losing their status before March 6. As many as 22,000 people who were eligible under the president’s plan to renew their status under DACA did not do so, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program.
They will become at risk of deportation before March 6, which is why immigrant rights advocates have said Congress must act as soon as possible, rather than waiting until early next year.
Some immigrant rights advocates believe that attaching Dreamer protections to a spending bill is the best ― or only ― way to get them through Congress. Some conservative House members said last week that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told them he believed DACA provisions would be in the spending deal, although he later denied it.
Democrats have signaled openness to going along with some border security measures as part of approving DACA protections ― but not the long wish list sent by Trump to make sweeping changes to the immigration system, largely with the goals of driving out undocumented people and cutting legal paths to the country.
Cotton, who has with Trump’s backing pushed for a bill that would cut legal immigration in half, said that there was agreement at Thursday's meeting with Trump that a DACA package must end so-called “chain migration,” which allows people to sponsor for visas family members besides spouses and unmarried minor children.
“The logical, coherent, tightly wound package of giving legal status to the DACA recipients is trying to control" chain migration, as well as measures for greater enforcement of immigration laws, he said. Such measures include enhanced border security, hiring more immigration judges and mandating employment verification of immigration status.
But at the same time, Cotton said such a legislative package should not be “comprehensive.”
“If you keep trying to add more and more into the bill, I think it likely collapses under its own weight,” he said.
Cornyn said Trump asked that any DACA package it address chain migration and the diversity visa lottery.
Trump has called on Congress to eliminate the latter program following the terrorist attack in New York City on Tuesday allegedly perpetrated by a Uzbek immigrant who came to the U.S. in 2010 on a diversity visa. Those visas are granted each year to about 50,000 people from countries with lower immigration levels, about half of them in Africa.
Diversity visa lottery winners undergo security screening before being approved, although the White House falsely said they do not. Authorities have said the New York terror suspect was likely radicalized once in the U.S.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who was also in the meeting with Trump but declined to comment on its specifics, said he favors ending the diversity visa lottery, although not necessarily as part of a DACA package. He is a sponsor of a bill that would grant legal status to certain Dreamers, and said it was important that a DACA package not get too bloated.
“There are a lot of issues on immigration,” Lankford said. “The challenge has been it gets so big, at some point it gets so weighty, that everyone has enough reasons to vote against it as well as for it and it dies.”
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