President Donald Trump appears willing to sign an amnesty bill for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children that doesn’t include funding for the centerpiece of his border security agenda.
In public and private discussions, the White House has signaled that it would approve a legislative remedy for recipients of the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, even if funding for a wall on the southwest border is not attached to the bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Trump told her privately he would sign the Dream Act, a bill with bipartisan backing that would provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
“We’ve been very clear — There is no wall in our DACA future. It’s just not going to happen,” Pelosi said of her conversation with Trump, according to Politico. “I think it’s immoral, I think it’s expensive and ineffective. And so we’re not going to that place.”
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Tuesday the administration is “most interested in getting border security,” but he also suggested that Trump wouldn’t insist on border wall funding in return for DACA amnesty.
“Whether or not that is part of a DACA equation or whether or not that’s another legislative vehicle — I don’t want us to bind ourselves into a construct that makes reaching a conclusion on DACA impossible,” he said during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the border wall is a priority of his immigration and border enforcement agenda, but he has not been able to get reluctant lawmakers, including many in his own party, to commit funds to the project. Congressional Democrats are universally opposed to the wall, and Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say they will not entertain combining the Dream Act with wall funding.
Pelosi has indicated that Democrats would accept some modest border security measures in a DACA deal, but she declined to offer any specific examples of what those might be. The Democratic leader says her party is focused on pressuring moderate Republicans to back a “clean” amnesty bill, according to Politico.
Following his decision to wind down DACA, Trump said he would revisit the issue if Congress was unable to reach an agreement by the time the program expires on March 5. With tax reform, infrastructure and a Fiscal Year 2018 budget still on the agenda, the White House is eager to put the DACA problem in its rearview mirror, wall funding or not.
Trump now risks a split with conservative Republicans, who are not likely to go along with either a clean DACA amnesty or a compromise that doesn’t include substantial immigration policy changes. GOP Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue want provisions in their RAISE Act — a bill to slash legal immigration levels — to be included in a deal. On the House side, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith has proposed a companion bill to the Cotton-Perdue measure, and is pushing for a law that would require nationwide use of e-Verify.
Some immigration hawks are skeptical the White House will make those immigration enforcement measures a condition of support for a DACA fix. Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, says Trump’s willingness to forego wall funding doesn’t bode well for any other Republican proposals to be part of a deal.
“If he won’t insist in that [border wall funds] (which I don’t care about but which is important to him), then he’s clearly willing to give away DACA for nothing,” Krikorian tweeted Tuesday.
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