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Trump backs citizenship for Dreamers, while slashing legal immigration

President Trump will support a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, according to a briefing by the White House for Republican Congressional staff.
Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets US mayors
U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks before U.S. mayors in which he spoke on the economy, his immigration policy and sanctuary cities, in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 24, 2018.Michael Reynolds / EPA

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he will support a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, according to a telephone briefing by the White House for Republican congressional staff members. His remarks could move negotiations on an immigration deal that is stalled in Congress but Democrats have signaled that his proposal is a non-starter.

The call, hosted by White House adviser Stephen Miller, outlined the demands for any deal on DACA, which includes a $25 billion "trust fund" for a border wall, an end to family reunification, also called "chain migration" by conservatives, and an end to the diversity visa lottery.

But in a more detailed outline of the proposal released by the White House later on Thursday, it calls for a massive increase in border security and a massive decrease in legal immigration by aiming to "protect the nuclear family migration" by only allowing family immigration sponsorships to include spouses or children, rather than extended family members.

In addition to $25 billion in border security, it would appropriate funds to add new enforcement officers, immigration judges and prosecutors - efforts to more quickly deport people who are in the country without legal papers.

The path to citizenship would be provided to DACA recipients via a "10-12 year path" that includes "requirements for work, education and good moral character."

A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers is a significant concession for Democrats, most of whom say they will not support any deal that does not provide for citizenship. It's similar to a bipartisan proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also includes a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

But Democrats say that the massive increase in border security, elimination of most family migration and the end to the diversity visa lottery is a lopsided deal.

"Dreamers should not be held hostage to President Trump's crusade to tear families apart and waste billions of American tax dollars on an ineffective wall," Durbin said in a statement. "This plan would put the administration's entire hard-line immigration agenda — including massive cuts to legal immigration — on the backs of these young people."

Trump told reporters Wednesday night before leaving for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he'd support legalization that would "morph" into citizenship.

Many on Capitol Hill have been waiting for specifics from the president on what he wants to see in an immigration bill. He has expressed requirements in line with conservative principles while also signaling his openness to a more lenient plan, confusing the topic for lawmakers attempting to draft legislation.

“We’re grateful for the president showing leadership on this issue, and believe his ideas will help us ultimately reach a balanced solution,” Michael Ricci, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, told NBC News.

Some Republicans, especially those with more hard-line views on immigration, praised the plan.

"The president's framework is generous and humane, while also being responsible," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said.

Immigration activists, however, blasted the plan for ending family reunification, and vowed to oppose it.

"They think that by offering up a spoonful of sugar — relief for Dreamers — they can get Congress and the American people to swallow the bitter medicine of radical nativism," Frank Sharry, founder of America's Voice, an immigration rights group. "We are going to fight this tooth and nail."

United We Dream Advocacy Director Greisa Martínez Rosas, who would be a DACA beneficiary, went further in a statement.

"Let's call this proposal for what it is: a white supremacist ransom note," she said. "Trump and Stephen Miller killed DACA and created the crisis that immigrant youths are facing. They have taken immigrant youth hostage, pitting us against our own parents, Black immigrants and our communities in exchange for our dignity."

The ACLU also did not pull any punches, saying that "the only community that benefits from this supposed generosity are white supremacists."

The nonprofit advocacy organizationadded that the "proposal is clearly an effort to sabotage bipartisan talks on the issue by continuing to put issues on the table that are non-starters."

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, said in a tweet that Trump's proposal didn't "pass the laugh test."

And Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., excoriated the bill in a statement.

“We cannot allow the lives of young people who have done everything right to be used as bargaining chips for sweeping anti-immigrant policies," she said. "The White House is using Dreamers to mask their underlying xenophobic, isolationist, and un-American policies, which will harm millions of immigrants living in the United States and millions of others who want to legally immigrate and contribute to our country."

Meanwhile, other Democrats in the House and Senate — as well as liberal advocates — shared their continued displeasure with Trump's proposal on social media.

Democrats shut down the government over the issue of immigration for three days, demanding progress on the issue of protecting Dreamers. Trump, who announced he was ending the Obama-era DACA program in September, gave Congress until March 5 to find a legislative solution for the people who were brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents and whose legal status remains in limbo.

To end the government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to take up DACA if no deal is reached between the White House, the Senate and the House before February 8, which is when the next government funding bill runs out.

In a statement Thursday, McConnell thanked Trump for putting forth the framework.

"I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement,” he said.

A White House official told reporters that they would like to see their proposal, which is likely to be more conservative than anything the Senate would devise, brought up the week of February 5, just days before the funding deadline.