President Donald Trump proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, if lawmakers agree to create a $25 billion fund to expand barriers along the Mexican border and implement other deep changes to the immigration system.
The White House suggested the proposal moved Mr. Trump a step closer to the Democrats, who have championed the cause of the young immigrants known as Dreamers, but the plan includes demands they have fiercely opposed. The Trump plan also risks the ire of hard-liners who oppose any such pathway to citizenship.
The White House proposal, presented to Senate leaders and congressional aides on Thursday, would restrict family-based immigration, the channel by which most immigrants have come to the U.S. for the past half-century. It also calls for an end to a lottery program that randomly awards 50,000 green cards annually to foreigners from countries underrepresented in U.S. immigration.
Mr. Trump was in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum on Thursday. His top aides told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the president would sign into law legislation that included these changes. Mr. McConnell said he would bring a bill to a vote during the week of Feb. 5, White House officials said.
It wasn’t clear whether Mr. McConnell could find sufficient support. To reach the 60 requires votes for such measures to pass, he will need backing from most Republicans, who hold 51 seats, and some Democrats. Passage in the House was also in doubt, with opposition from Democrats expected over policy changes and border-wall funding, and opposition from conservatives over a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Mr. Trump’s multipart plan contrasts with calls from some on Capitol Hill, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) for a deal largely centered on just two issues: the fate of the Dreamers and border security.
Mr. Trump’s proposal would offer a path to citizenship within 10 to 12 years for 1.8 million Dreamers—people whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally as children. About 700,000 Dreamers were shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by former President Barack Obama in 2013.
In September, Mr. Trump ended the program, known as DACA, but gave Congress until its expiration on March 5 to replace it. The rest of the immigrants aren’t enrolled in DACA but could have qualified.
“This represents a dramatic concession by the White House to get to 60 votes from the Senate,” a senior administration official said, describing the bill as a “compromise on many fronts.”
But Mr. Trump’s broad-reaching proposal ran counter to the mood on Capitol Hill Thursday, where lawmakers have been trying to narrow the parameters of negotiations to boost their chances of being able to cut a deal.
The White House framework was released shortly after senators scattered for the weekend and while the House is on a week-long recess. But earlier Thursday, both Democrats and Republicans had been advocating winnowing the scope of the immigration talks to focus primarily on border security and addressing the fate of the Dreamers.
“As we found time and again, when we open up the negotiations to discussions of broad immigration reform, there is no end to what each party says could be on the table,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday. “We should find a narrow deal on DACA and border security.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said the best strategy would be to bring to the Senate floor a slimmer bill that dealt only with border security and giving the Dreamers legal status for now, with the chance to expand it if enough senators agreed on other issues.
Some Republicans support allowing Dreamers to become citizens, but others are worried about whether that would enable them to sponsor their parents and other relatives for green cards.
Many experts, including some in the Trump administration, say that if Dreamers are going to be allowed to stay in the U.S., they should have a path to citizenship so they don’t have perpetual second-class status.
Some conservatives argue it isn’t fair to grant citizenship to people who came to the U.S. illegally and it would encourage others to break the law.
“No one should be awarded citizenship for knowingly breaking our law,” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R., Tenn.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, saying most Dreamers were teenagers when they entered the U.S. and knew what they were doing. “It’s an insult to all those who have followed the rules.”
When the president said he would be in favor of a pathway to citizenship late Wednesday before leaving for Davos, the conservative website Breitbart.com ran a headline referring to Mr. Trump as “Amnesty Don.”
But Mr. Trump has long said he was open to protecting Dreamers, and the White House is betting that his supporters will overlook those concessions if he can secure funding for a border wall.
Mr. Trump’s path to citizenship would also include requirements for work, education and “good moral character,” which has long been one of the requirements for naturalization in the U.S. That status could be revoked in the case of criminal conduct, public safety concerns or dependency on the government for subsistence, such as cash assistance.
While Mr. Trump promised voters he would make Mexico pay for the wall, his plan instead asks Congress to find $25 billion for a trust fund that future lawmakers couldn’t divert to other programs.
The goal is to ensure long-term funding for the plan, but doing so will require lawmakers to sign off on a huge expansion of the existing border barrier. Today, 654 miles of the 2,000 mile border have some sort of fencing. Under the Trump plan, the total would top 900 miles, with hundreds of miles of existing fencing replaced and in some cases built higher.
The total price tag on Mr. Trump’s plan for border security—along both the southern and northern border—would cost billions more, White House officials said. Asked if it would cost another $5 billion, one White house official said that amount was “in the ballpark.”
The administration is also seeking policy changes that would limit the rights of children arriving at the border alone, as well as quicker removal of people already in the U.S. illegally. It also wants more border agents and immigration judges.
On family-based immigration, Mr. Trump’s plan would restrict what conservatives call chain migration to only spouses and minor children.That would shut out adult children, siblings and parents. The administration argues that successive rounds of family-based admissions tilts the immigrant pool away from young, skilled workers best equipped to prosper and assimilate.
Those who have already applied for family-based immigration would be allowed to continue through the process, under Mr. Trump’s plan.
Some of that backlog would be cleared by using slots from the Diversity Visa Lottery. The president called for an end to the process, a marginal visa program once tied to efforts to help Irish migrants, after it was used by the man accused of driving a rented truck through a crowd of cyclists and pedestrian in New York City.
Ending the program would also free up visas to be used for skilled migrants, a White House official said.