CAPITOL HILL —
U.S. House and Senate Democratic leaders said Wednesday they agreed with President Donald Trump to quickly put into law protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, while also working on border security measures that do not include a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement that the deal came in a meeting focused on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a different assessment of conclusions reached at the meeting.
“While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” Sanders wrote via Twitter.
A White House official described the talks with Schumer and Pelosi on tax reform, border security, DACA and trade as a “positive step” toward Trump’s commitment to bipartisan issues, and said the administration “looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle.”
Trump rescinded the DACA program last week, giving Congress six months to work out a permanent solution.
Trump told a group of lawmakers from both parties Wednesday that funding for a border wall could be dealt with separately from a bill providing a permanent fix for the 800,000 people who had registered under DACA. The program allowed them to continue working or studying in the U.S. temporarily without the fear of deportation.
“That got people’s attention,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, told reporters after the meeting.
It is becoming clearer that the future of Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients is almost impossible for the U.S. Congress to separate from a larger, even more contentious debate over comprehensive immigration reform.
Trump indicated in the bipartisan meeting that he remained interested in tying additional funding for border security to any legislative fix for the DACA program, two Democratic lawmakers in the meeting told VOA.
According to two of the lawmakers, Trump suggested the RAISE Act, a Senate bill co-sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, as the legislative solution for DACA. When House Democrats encouraged the president to support the Dream Act, he did not commit to that solution but indicated both parties could work together on a solution.
“The key is now can we find bipartisan agreement there? It starts by having these kinds of conversations,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Pelosi and heads of the congressional Hispanic, Black and Asian caucuses also met Wednesday, in a first attempt to work out a compromise.
“It was a positive meeting,” House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters afterward. He would not comment on whether House Democrats would continue an attempt to force a floor vote on Dream Act legislation.
Pelosi and Democratic congressional caucuses asked the House Republican leader for a meeting after a week of demands for action, saying DACA recipients, also know as “Dreamers,” deserved an end to their uncertain status by Sept. 30.
But House Republicans recognize that negotiations on the DACA program present an unusual opportunity for compromises on Trump’s calls for increased border security and comprehensive immigration reform, a solution that’s eluded past presidents and Congress.
“I do believe that kicking these 800,000 kids out to countries that they probably have not been to since they were toddlers, in countries that speak languages they may not even know, is not in our nation’s interest, so I do believe that there’s got to be a solution to this problem,” Speaker Ryan told the Associated Press in an interview Wednesday morning.
“But at the same time, I think it’s only reasonable, it makes perfect common sense, that we deal with the problem that was the root cause of this, which is we do not have operational control of our borders,” Ryan said.
Republicans said it would be impossible to find a permanent fix for DACA recipients, while failing to resolve the status of the nearly 12 million undocumented people now living in the United States.
“The message has to be in six months, we’re going to start enforcing the law,” Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday morning. “Because that’s where the leverage comes from.”
Labrador said conservative House Republicans would never vote for a so-called “clean” legislative fix for DACA, a move that would address only that program.
“The president gave us a golden opportunity with the announcement he made about DACA — the Democrats have to get on board,” Labrador said. “They’re not going to get anything they want if they don’t help us fix the border security issues and interior security issues.”
Early in negotiations
But at this early stage in negotiations, both parties are still looking for the upper hand.
“There are always some members who are going to be pushing the goal posts. I don’t think we do comprehensive reform well on anything,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania and a chairman of the so-called Tuesday Group of House moderates. “We should do some kind of incremental change on immigration to start. We should have a comprehensive process but do incremental bills. We should attach some DACA and border security together that’s easy to do.
Dent said he supports the Recognizing America’s Children Act, sponsored by Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo. If passed, the legislation would provide the 800,000 undocumented young people with three pathways toward five-year conditional status — through service in the armed forces, higher education or work authorization. After those five years, they would be eligible to reapply for five-year permanent status.
Schumer warned in a press conference with Pelosi last week that congressional Democrats would attach DACA legislation to other bills if Republican leadership did not bring it up for a vote in September.
House Republicans did advance immigration legislation this week, introducing a bill requiring U.S. employers to use E-Verify, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
They also scheduled a Thursday vote on the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. If passed, the measure would deny criminal alien gang members entry to the United States and make them ineligible for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, temporary protected status, and, with limited exceptions for law enforcement purposes, parole.