President Donald Trump presented his list of “America First” immigration principles for Capitol Hill on Sunday and pushed for a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the United States, many of them from Central America.
“The priority for Congress ought to be to save American lives, protect American jobs and improve the well-being of American communities. These reforms accomplish that,” a senior administration official told reporters on Sunday night. “They live up to the president’s campaign commitment to have an immigration system that puts the needs of hardworking Americans first.”
The plan, which was delivered to leaders in Congress on Sunday night, mandated federal funding for construction of the president’s long-awaited border wall in exchange for signing legislation to provide legal status to approximately 800,000 illegal immigrants who obtained protection from deportation and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Trump announced in September that he would wind down the Obama-era immigration executive action starting in March, before passing the responsibility on to Congress to codify DACA into law.
The White House proposals emphasize immigration enforcement and include a request for funds to hire 370 more immigration judges, 1,000 attorneys for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 300 federal prosecutors and 10,000 additional ICE agents to enforce immigration laws.
The documents also call for tighter standards for those seeking U.S. asylum, denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities” that serve as refuges for illegal immigrants, and a requirement that employers use an electronic verification system known as “E-Verify” to keep illegal immigrants from securing jobs.
Trump’s wish list seeks to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors into the United States. It would require such children to be treated the same, regardless of their countries of origin “so long as they are not victims of human trafficking and can be safely returned home or removed to safe third countries,” according to the White House documents.
The list of “inadmissible aliens” would also be expanded to include members of gangs, those who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, and former spouses and children of drug and human traffickers, if they receive benefits from such behavior.
The plan also seeks to reduce the number of people who overstay their visas and reform the methods in which green cards that establish legal permanent residents are granted.
In a letter to Congress, Trump said these policy priorities “must be included as part of any legislation addressing” DACA because without the changes, “illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”
Trump’s list of demands was immediately slammed by Democrats who are seeking a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump ended last month.
“The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” said House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
“The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so,” the Democrats noted in a statement.
“These priorities are essential to mitigate the legal and economic consequences of any grant of status to DACA recipients,” Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, told reporters on a conference call. The White House made clear it would not be pushing for Dreamers to achieve U.S. citizenship, only legal status, in a potential deal.
Many Democrats and immigration groups see the proposals as too harsh.
“The Trump administration has put forth a serious proposal to address the enforcement of our immigration laws and border security,“ said Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte in a statement. ”We cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”
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