WASHINGTON — With the deadline clock ticking, President Donald Trump on Thursday huddled with Republican lawmakers and invited a bipartisan group to the White House next week to try to work out a deal on immigration.
Lawmakers have been trying to come up with a plan Trump will agree to that extends legal status for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, many of whom were brought to the country illegally as children.
Trump announced last September he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that had protected them from deportation, but gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix. Democrats want the fix to be part of a spending pact that must pass by Jan. 19 to keep the government running.
“We’re all working in an effort to develop an immigration reform plan that will serve the interests of the American workers and the American families and safety,” Trump said at the top of Thursday’s meeting, which was attended by a handful of Republican senators, including John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
He later tweeted: “Thank you to the great Republican Senators who showed up to our mtg on immigration reform. We must BUILD THE WALL, stop illegal immigration, end chain migration & cancel the visa lottery. The current system is unsafe & unfair to the great people of our country – time for change!”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president is inviting a bipartisan group of senators to the White House next week “to discuss the next steps on responsible immigration reform and to continue that discussion.”
“We’d like to have a deal where we have DACA as well as those priorities and principles that we laid out last year met,” she said.
Republicans and Democrats are at odds on how best to extend protections for the young immigrants, commonly known as “Dreamers,” based on proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
Democrats have been pushing for a stand-alone bill or for deportation protections to be included as part of other must-pass legislation. But Republicans have insisted that help for the young immigrants must come with measures to bolster border security.
Trump’s White House last year released a list of dozens of immigration priorities that officials said the president would demand in exchange for signing DACA legislation.
The list included money to build Trump’s promised border wall, money for more border patrol and other immigration enforcement agents, a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and a complete overhaul of the legal immigration system. That would include limiting what critics call “chain migration,” in which legal immigrants are able to sponsor extended family members to come to the U.S.
Many of those items are no-gos for Democrats.
A past deal between Trump and Democratic leaders appeared to fall apart within hours, as Trump was lambasted by some on the right for appearing eager to work with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Many Democrats say they won’t go along with any spending bill until the Dreamers are guaranteed protections. That has sparked pushback from GOP leaders who have refused to cede leverage to Democrats and want to deal with politically nettlesome immigration issues on a separate track.
“I can’t imagine Sen. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi wanting to shut down the government over this issue when there is a bipartisan commitment to work on it in good faith, and we know what the deadline looks like,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
Cornyn said the goal would still be to get something done in January, citing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assurance to Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that the Senate would vote in January on bipartisan legislation.
Trump said during the meeting Thursday that any deal he signs will need to include funding for his border wall, more money for immigration enforcement, an overhaul of the family-based immigration system and an end to the diversity visa lottery.
Trump told the lawmakers that he would “love to take care of DACA, but we’re only going to do it under these conditions.”
“Our current immigration system fails Americans. Chain migration is a total disaster which threatens our security and our economy and provides a gateway for terrorism,” he said.
Trump also expressed optimism the efforts would win Democratic support, and Graham said he believed a deal could be reached.
“Obama couldn’t do it. Bush couldn’t do it. I think you can do it,” he told Trump during the meeting, adding that he had “never been more optimistic about an immigration reform proposal making it to the president’s desk.”
Schumer said Democrats also are hopeful the lawmakers can get it done.
“We have always said we need strong and real border security, not things that sound good but don’t do the job, and we need to help the Dreamers. That’s what we believe and we will sit down with our Republican colleagues and try to negotiate,” Schumer said.