President Trump and congressional negotiators agreed Tuesday to narrow the outlines of the immigration deal they’re working on to four issues: protection of “Dreamers,” enhanced border security, limiting family-based chain migration and curtailing the visa lottery.
All sides said they made real progress after an extraordinary meeting at the White House, where nearly an hour of open negotiations were broadcast on television, giving Americans an unparalleled view into the decision-making process.
Under constant prodding from Mr. Trump, Democrats said they could accept some new enforcement, while Republicans agreed to forgo an even longer list of security upgrades and stricter enforcement they’d been asking for.
The fate of Dreamers and Mr. Trump’s push for a border wall gained urgency as they became entwined with a spending bill that must pass by Jan. 19 to stop a government shutdown.
The details remain to be worked out, and the two sides still don’t even agree on a deadline, nor on how the legislation would reach the House or Senate floor. But Mr. Trump promised the end result will be a “bill of love.”
“We have something in common. We’d like to see this get done,” Mr. Trump said.
He also said that he would sign whatever Congress sends him, saying he trusted the more than two dozen lawmakers he invited to the White House for the talks to come up with the right balance.
Mr. Trump did say he must have a new border wall in whatever emerges, saying he couldn’t imagine Democrats would object — particularly with new numbers from the Homeland Security Department showing illegal immigration across the southwest border rose again in December, and is now back to Obama-era levels.
The president is eyeing a wall that would stretch between 700 and 800 miles along the border, not the entire 2,000 miles, and would be more of a massive bollard-style fence than a solid concrete wall, said Sen. Jeff Flake.
“Frankly, I went in very skeptical that anything would be accomplished,” said Mr. Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been at odds with the president on a host of issues. “But the biggest part of the meeting [was when] the president actually did a little more explanation of what a wall means to him.”
Democrats have resisted any wall-building, and recoiled last week after the Homeland Security Department sent up a proposal that envisioned $18 billion in funding, spread out over most of the next decade, to build hundreds of miles of new fencing.
The president on Tuesday brushed aside his department’s own estimates, insisting the wall can be done much faster and cheaper.
In an unprecedented move, Mr. Trump allowed reporters to remain in the meeting for about 55 minutes and witness some of the back-and-forth between himself and lawmakers.
“It’s not common, but I thought it was a good idea,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican at the meeting. ” It was good for the White House and the staff to also see the gaps we need to bridge amongst the Republicans and Democrats.”
A smaller bipartisan group of lawmakers will meet again Wednesday to continue the negotiations.
The talks were spurred by Mr. Trump’s decision last year to cancel Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, the Obama-era deportation amnesty that’s protected up to 800,000 Dreamers from deportation. DACA will be phased out by March 5, creating a firm deadline for action.
But Democrats have said they wanted to see a solution well before that deadline, saying it will take time to get a program up and running. They’d initially set an end-of-December deadline, then let that pass.
Now they are insisting that the next government funding bill, due by Jan. 19, will have to include a “DACA fix.”
“We expect it to be in the bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer — though he wouldn’t say whether he’ll encourage a filibuster, inviting a partial government shutdown, if DACA isn’t included.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls the schedule, countered that he won’t combine immigration with the spending bill.
“Let me tell you again how it’s going to be handled in the Senate: separately from the spending negotiation,” the Kentucky Republican said.
During Tuesday’s meeting Mr. Trump appeared to toss a curveball into the negotiations, promoting a get-tough immigration bill by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
The bill not only would rein in chain migration and end the visa lottery but also would crack down on sanctuary cities, make it tougher to game the asylum system and allow for faster deportations of new illegal immigrants — a move that could cut down on the new surge in illegal immigrant children and families.
The Border Patrol nabbed 12,204 Unaccompanied Alien Children and family members last month, and nearly 6,000 more were detained by Customs and Border Protection officers running the ports of entry, according to data released Tuesday.
Mr. Goodlatte and the three chief co-sponsors, all of whom were included in the meeting, said the bill would be introduced this week.
Mr. Trump said that legislation would lead off the congressional action.
“It could be a good way of starting,” Mr. Trump said.
But that bill goes well beyond the four areas all sides said they had agreed to focus on, so it’s not clear how it will fit into ongoing negotiations.
Mr. Trump, while calling for a series of immigration changes, said his biggest focus is on the wall, curtailing family-based chain migration that allows migrants to sponsor relatives beyond the nuclear family, and nixing the visa lottery.
He pointed to recent terrorist attacks that involved migrants who entered the U.S. because of the visa lottery and chain migration.
But many Democrats object to any action other than approving legal status for Dreamers, saying the wall, chain migration and the rest can wait.
“There is a terrible misunderstanding about chain migration and the truth about the visa lottery,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who attending the meeting. “But the most difficult issue will be border security.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who for years has been at the forefront of Democrats’ fight for amnesty for illegal immigrants, said the chain migration and visa lottery issues were deal breakers.
“You have conceded to the xenophobic right wing,” said the Illinois Democrat.
⦁ David Sherfinski contributed to this report.
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