- Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
- President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wanted a “bill of love” that protected young unauthorized immigrants in exchange for border security.
- His comments came during a rare, lengthy, public meeting with members of both parties of Congress.
- He said he would back a two-phase approach to immigration reform that first bolsters the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and border security and then later addresses more comprehensive immigration reform.
President Donald Trump said in a wild, freewheeling public meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday that he wanted to enact bipartisan immigration reform, which he called a “bill of love,” that both secured the border and resolved the fate of young unauthorized immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is expiring.
“Maybe we can do something,” Trump said. “We have a lot of good people in this room, a lot of people that have a great spirit for taking care of people we represent.”
In the highly unusual, 45-plus-minute negotiations that aired on news networks afterward, a bipartisan group of lawmakers debated whether to enact a two-phase approach to immigration reform in which the first component resolved the soon-to-be terminated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the second attempted a broader reform of the US immigration system.
Trump, at certain points in the meeting, appeared partial to the two-phase approach, but it’s unclear what precisely he meant by the term “comprehensive immigration reform” and what such legislation would include.
“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat,” Trump told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at one point. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
But Trump also devolved into a tangent at one point on the need to immediately address in any near-term DACA bill the issue of “chain migration,” which refers to certain family-based immigration categories. Trump noted that the suspect in a recent terrorist attack in New York City had entered the US on a family-based immigration category.
“I really think that a lot of people are going to agree with us now on that subject,” he said.
He also insisted on ending the diversity visa lottery program, which randomly selects roughly 50,000 immigration applicants annually from countries with a low rate of immigration to the US. Trump repeated a false claim that countries “give you people that they don’t want, and then we take them out of the lottery” (countries don’t submit lottery entrants; people apply on their own).
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed concerns that too many broader immigration issues would complicate the debate on DACA, and she proposed that Congress pass a “clean DACA bill” immediately but with an added commitment that lawmakers then enter a procedure for comprehensive immigration reform.
“I would like it,” Trump said, though it wasn’t clear what he understood a clean bill to entail. “I think a lot of people would like to see that.” Republican lawmakers subsequently pointed out that a clean DACA bill was unlikely to include border-security measures.
Several Republicans pushed back at different points during the negotiations. Among them was Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who said no deal on DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, could be reached without attaching border-security measures to it.
- Thomson Reuters
‘This should be a bipartisan bill’
The talks come amid growing pressure to enact a legislative solution for the young immigrants who have lived in the US illegally since they were children. They were temporarily shielded from deportation under the Obama-era DACA program, which Trump is terminating on March 5.
Trump, in the Tuesday meeting, emphasized the need for immigration reform to be bipartisan, saying the plight of Dreamers was a dilemma that concerned both Democrats and Republicans.
“I feel having the Democrats in with this is absolutely vital, because this should be a bipartisan bill,” he said. “It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love. And we can do that.
“But it also has to be a bill where we can secure our border. Drugs are pouring into our country at a record pace – a lot of people are coming in that we can’t have.”
Trump had previously declared several times that any legislation on DACA would have to include funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border and major changes to legal immigration categories.
His insistence on the border wall in exchange for a deal on DACA was widely seen as a nonstarter. Democrats have been supportive of certain border-security measures but have stopped short of supporting a physical wall.