No immigration deal near as Trump speech, offer are panned
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s State of the Union offer of a “down-the-middle compromise” on immigration did nothing to move Republicans and Democrats closer to a deal Wednesday, as Democrats accused the president of lacing his speech with racially charged remarks and Republicans dug in on their demands.
The reaction to Trump’s high-profile overture suggested both parties were settling into a protracted tug of war. The standoff left serious doubt whether the two parties could reach an election-year pact to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, sharpen border security and take other steps to curb immigration. The two parties had not even settled on a deadline an agreement — a bad sign in an institution that rarely acts unless under pressure.
“If the deadline is Feb. 8, we’re not going to make it,” No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Wednesday, noting a looming deadline for approving government funding to avoid another shutdown.
“It’s going to take work for us to build a consensus,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House GOP vote counter, said Tuesday. Scalise noted that Republicans took “weeks and weeks” to craft tax legislation last year.
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats looking to pressure Republicans to reach an immigration deal forced a three-day federal shutdown. While many Democrats have little appetite to repeat that strategy, party leaders have yet to indicate if they’ll let future budget legislation move forward without an immigration accord.
The tone of the immigration debate, already testy, seemed to worsen after Trump asserted Tuesday night that “open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities” and let millions of immigrants “compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that Trump used “insulting words of ignorance and prejudice.” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the remarks were “meant to enflame tensions about immigrants” and would stir up Trump’s conservative base but damage talks.
DACA could end: Republicans said Democrats are not making serious offers as they bargain over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that’s shielded “Dreamers” in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children. Trump said last year he was ending the program, claiming executive overreach by President Barack Obama, but gave Congress until March 5 to enshrine it into law.
“If Democrats don’t figure out a way to negotiate, then the DACA program will end, and that’s not an outcome I think anybody would like,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate GOP leader. “But they will be responsible for it.”
Even that March 5 date was in doubt, according to Hoyer, who’s been meeting with other leaders. He said Wednesday that Republicans suggested Trump could extend that deadline, though a congressional GOP aide said he was unaware of that.
The urgency of the March 5 deadline also was blunted by a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the end of the DACA program. As a result, U.S. immigration authorities resumed accepting requests to renew DACA permits, which provide recipients permission to live and work in the country.
Trump has proposed a 10- to 12-year track to citizenship for about 1.8 million younger immigrants protected by DACA or eligible for its guarantees. That has enraged GOP conservatives.
“The heartburn is the amnesty component,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, referring to Trump’s offer of citizenship. He said that plan needs “a few adjustments that may be major” before it could pass the House.
Don’t forget the wall: Trump also wants $25 billion for border security including his prized wall, a campaign pillar he promised Mexico would finance. He would end a lottery used to encourage immigration from diverse countries including African nations and redistribute some of those visas to applicants with high-skilled jobs.
He also would limit relatives that immigrants could sponsor for legal U.S. status to spouses and minor children. He calls that “chain migration,” a term immigration advocates find nearly as offensive as the idea of barring them from helping parents, siblings and other relatives.
“We will not reach agreement as long as he wants to attack the very underpinning of legal immigration. My sister is not a distant relative,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a hard-line pro-immigration advocate.
GOP lawmakers were wary of changes Trump would make, such as potential curbs on visas that allow temporary agriculture or seasonal workers into the U.S.
“I favor legal immigration, I want to eliminate illegal immigration,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. He said Trump’s proposal was “a good first step” and added, “Let each of the two houses do their work.”
The conservative-leaning Cato Institute has called Trump’s proposals “draconian restrictions on legal immigrants” that would exclude nearly 500,000 legal immigrants annually, cutting their numbers by nearly 50 percent.
Without a deal, Democrats risked a backlash from liberal voters furious about any failure to protect the “Dreamers.” Republicans were wary of letting deportations begin in a year in which they’ll be defending Senate seats in Nevada and Arizona, swing states with high Hispanic populations.