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Trump plan offers citizenship path to 1.8 million immigrant

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© (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) © (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON (AP) -

President Donald Trump is proposing a plan that provides a path to citizenship for 1.8 million of the so-called “Dreamer” immigrants, tighter restrictions on legal immigration and $25 billion in border security, the White House said, putting forward an outline likely to find resistance from some of Trump’s conservative allies and deep opposition from immigration activists.

Senior White House officials offered a preview of Trump’s immigration framework Thursday, casting it as a compromise that could pass the Senate. The proposal represents a reversal for the president, who once promised to eliminate an Obama-era program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and now in the country illegally. He later urged lawmakers to extend the program, but maintained he was not considering citizenship.

The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program currently covers roughly 690,000 of those younger immigrants — about half the number who qualify for the program, according to independent estimates. Trump’s plan would expand this further by adjusting some of the requirements, officials said, but they would not offer specific details. It would not allow parents of those immigrants to seek lawful status, the officials said.

The White House will be releasing a legislative framework on immigration Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Sanders won’t say whether that framework will include a pathway to citizenship for ‘Dreamers.’ (Jan. 24)

On Wednesday, Trump said he was open to a pathway to citizenship for the younger immigrants. “We’re going to morph into it,” Trump told reporters. “It’s going to happen, at some point in the future, over a period of 10 to 12 years.”

Recipients could have their legal status revoked due to criminal behavior or national security threats, the officials said, and eventual citizenship would require still-unspecified work and education requirements — and a finding that the immigrants are of “good moral character.”

Trump ended the DACA program in September, setting a March 5 deadline for Congress to provide legal protections or the program’s recipients would once again be subject to deportation. The officials said Trump would only sign legislation providing those protections if the other immigration changes he is proposing are implemented.

Trump’s plan would only allow immigrants to sponsor their spouses and underage children to join them in the U.S., doing away with provisions allowing parents, adult siblings and others to enter the country. The officials said it would only end new applications for visas, allowing those already in the pipeline to be processed.

It would also end the diversity visa lottery program, which drew Trump’s attention after the New York City truck attack last year, redirecting the allotment annually to bringing down the existing backlog in visa applications.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the plan before its release.

Trump had previously ruled out the idea of citizenship for the Dreamers, saying in September: “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

Trump earlier this month had deferred to a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to craft an immigration proposal, saying he would sign whatever they passed. But as talks on Capitol Hill broke down — in part because of controversy Trump ginned up using vulgar language to describe other countries — the White House decided to offer its own framework.

The release follows on concerns raised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the president had not sufficiently laid out his priorities. One official said the Thursday release represents a plan for the Senate, with the administration expecting a different bill to pass the House.

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said it believes the largest share of the White House’s 1.8 million people who’d be eligible for citizenship — 1.3 million — are people who currently meet all of DACA’s eligibility requirements. These include years in the U.S., their ages now and when they entered this country, and whether they have a high school or equivalent education.

Another 400,000 are people who’d be eligible for DACA protection but for their education. And 100,000 more are people who are under age 15 —the minimum age allowed for most people requesting protection under the program.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “very encouraged” by Trump’s surprising words, which the president made late Wednesday in impromptu comments to reporters.

But a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the plan as part of a “hateful anti-immigrant agenda.”

Drew Hammill accused White House aide Stephen Miller, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, of “trying to ransom the lives of innocent DREAMers for a $25 billion anti-immigrant wish list.”

“The White House strategy of moving the goal posts every time the President isn’t paying attention continues to complicate this process,” he said in a statement.

On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., thanked the president and his administration.

“I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement,” he said in a statement.

Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, echoed the sentiment saying: “We’re grateful for the president showing leadership on this issue and believe his ideas will help us ultimately reach a balanced solution.”

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said he supports the citizenship pathway Trump described. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., called Trump’s words “positive” and said Trump’s description “gives us a better sense” of his views, but added, “We have a long way to go yet.”

But some of Congress’ more conservative members seemed unwilling to open the citizenship door for the Dreamers.

“DACA itself didn’t have a pathway to citizenship,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who battled Trump in 2016 for the GOP presidential nomination. “So I think it would be a profound mistake and not consistent with the promises we made to the voters to enact a pathway to citizenship to DACA recipients or to others who are here illegally.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he supports a more conservative, more sweeping immigration bill proposed by House members, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which has won strong support from House conservatives. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has promised to push for support for that measure.

Meanwhile, immigration activists blasted the plan. Lorella Praeli, with the American Civil Liberties Union, called it “a hateful, xenophobic immigration proposal that would slash legal immigration to levels not seen since the racial quotas of the 1920s, eliminate legal immigration channels for African countries, and spend $25 billion for a harmful, wasteful border wall and an increase in Border Patrol and ICE agents. ”

“The White House proposal is clearly an effort to sabotage bipartisan talks on the issue by continuing to put issues on the table that are non-starters,” she said.


Democrats said they were heartened Thursday by President Donald Trump’s support for an immigration plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, while Republicans were more cautious.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “very encouraged” by Trump’s surprising words, which the president made late Wednesday in impromptu comments to reporters. Like other Democrats, Manchin shrugged off subsequent attempts by White House officials to pull back Trump’s comments.

“The president is the man in charge. We’re going to work with him,” Manchin said.

Among Republicans, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said he supports the citizenship pathway Trump described. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., called Trump’s words “positive” and said Trump’s description “gives us a better sense” of his views but added, “We have a long way to go yet.”

Trump’s pronouncement came as the White House announced it would unveil a legislative framework on immigration next week that it hopes can pass both the House and the Senate. The president’s remarks amounted to a preview of that framework. He said he’ll propose $25 billion for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and $5 billion for other security measures.

The White House will be releasing a legislative framework on immigration Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Sanders won’t say whether that framework will include a pathway to citizenship for ‘Dreamers.’ (Jan. 24)

“We’re going to morph into it,” Trump told reporters. “It’s going to happen, at some point in the future, over a period of 10 to 12 years.”

Immediately after Trump spoke, a senior White House official stressed the idea of a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers was just a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House intended to preview to the House and Senate.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the administration’s thinking on a contentious issue that has roiled lawmakers for months.

Despite his previously harsh rhetoric, Trump told reporters he had a message for the Dreamers: “Tell ’em not to be concerned, OK? Tell ’em not to worry. We’re going to solve the problem.”

Trump has said repeatedly that any deal to protect those immigrants from deportation is contingent on money for the border wall and other security measures. Trump also wants to limit the family members that immigrants are able to sponsor to join them in the U.S. and either replace or transform a visa lottery aimed at increasing diversity.

Trump has given Congress until March to come up with a plan to protect the nearly 700,000 young people who had been protected from deportation and given the right to work legally in the country under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump announced last year that he was ending DACA.

Trump expressed confidence a deal can be reached, and said he’d like to see one hammered out by the time he returns from Davos, Switzerland, on Friday. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, stayed in Washington to help work out an immigration deal, said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Wednesday that the framework to be unveiled Monday “represents a compromise that members of both parties can support.”

The White House was trying to take control of the process amid criticism that the president had taken too much of a back seat during recent negotiations and had sent mixed signals that repeatedly upended near-deals.

“The president wants to lead on this issue, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Sanders said.

Trump had previously ruled out the idea of citizenship for the immigrants known as Dreamers, saying last September: “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

But he said Wednesday that providing an opportunity for citizenship had its positives. “I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive of after a period of years being able to become a citizen,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the Hill, senators from both parties were making a fresh search for their own compromise immigration legislation, though leaders conceded that the effort wouldn’t be easy and were already casting blame should it falter.

Around three dozen senators from both parties met privately Wednesday, and two top lawmakers said they’d try crafting a compromise bill based on colleagues’ suggestions. The goal is to produce consensus legislation that would be the starting point for Senate debate on immigration, which is expected to begin Feb. 8, said Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., their parties’ No. 2 leaders.

“We’re the Senate, we have our own responsibility under the Constitution and we decided in this room to move forward,” Durbin said afterward. “If the president has some ideas he’d like to share, of course we’ll take a look at them.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement that he was “extremely pleased with the number of senators — from both sides of the aisle” — who had accepted his invitation. “My hope is that we can reach an agreement before February 8,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said if senators cannot produce a compromise plan by Feb. 8, he would open a debate on immigration legislation that would be “fair to all sides.” That suggests both parties would be allowed to offer amendments.

Feb. 8 is the date legislation expires that reopened the government after a three-day shutdown, which began after Democrats demanded movement toward an immigration deal as the price for financing federal agencies.

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