CAPITOL HILL - President Donald Trump's blueprint for reforming America’s immigration system is drawing fire from advocacy groups at both ends of the ideological spectrum.
The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restrictive immigration policies and has cheered many of Trump’s stances on the topic, said Wednesday the president’s framework amounts to “instant amnesty” for 1.8 million undocumented youth brought to America as children.
CIS Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan said Trump’s plan to limit the ability of immigrants to bring family members to the United States, so-called “chain migration,” will take years to offset those who have been eligible for legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a temporary program created by former president Barack Obama that expires in March.
“In other words, there would be instant deportation relief for 1.8 million illegal aliens, but a very long wait for immigration relief for Americans,” Vaughan said in a post on CIS’ website.
The president’s framework would provide a 10-12 year path to citizenship for DACA-eligible immigrants, give preference to immigrants with skills needed in the U.S. economy, end a “visa lottery” that gave people across the world a chance to come legally to the United States, and seek to boost border security by erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Immigrant rights groups blasted the plan as well as Trump’s promotion of it in Tuesday’s State of the Union address to Congress.
“Instead of lifting up the shared humanity of all those who aspire to be full and equal members of the American family, he (Trump) sneered that Americans are dreamers, too, a not-too-subtle swipe at young immigrants whose lives were plunged into crisis by his decision to end DACA,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a non-governmental organization that advocates a direct path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“The plan exploits the precarious status of Dreamers, a crisis he caused and cynically uses them to push for a radical restructuring of our legal immigration system that harkens back to the racist national origins policies of the 1920s,” Sharry continued. “Far from a compromise that can pass, it is a deeply partisan proposal that, fortunately, is dead on arrival.
Trump called his blueprint “a down-the-middle compromise,” but it remained a lightning rod in Congress, which has until Feb. 8 to arrive at a bipartisan agreement on immigration and federal funding or risk another partial shutdown of the U.S. government.
The president said it was his “sacred duty ... to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.”
Trump’s speech drew scorn from Democrats and a tepid response from one immigration hardliner, conservative Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.
King said Trump’s call to let the young, undocumented immigrants work toward citizenship over 12 years was not well received by Republican lawmakers, many of whom view such a policy as granting “amnesty” to lawbreakers.
“You notice the Republicans were pretty flat on that?” King observed.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Trump’s tone on immigration “was of a divider-in-chief. It was a red-meat appeal to the anti-immigrant base of his party.”
Trump said current immigration policies allowed Central American gang members into the country to commit violent crimes.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” the president said.
"Inflammatory” is how Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois described Trump’s remarks.
“No one in the world defends them,” Durbin said of violent gang members.
Lawmakers of both parties have noted that the vast majority of DACA-eligible immigrants have no criminal records and do not belong to gangs.
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.