- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

President Trump emerged this week as the potential middle ground in the immigration debate, cutting a path between security-focused Republicans in the House and more illegal-immigrant-friendly senators from both parties.

The president has said he is interested in action on both sides of the debate, coupling a potentially generous amnesty for Dreamers with border security and major changes to immigration policy.

But his negotiating partners appeared to entrench Tuesday, with Democrats in particular returning to the hardened position they held before the shutdown showdown. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer even said he was revoking his offer of support for Mr. Trump’s border wall and that it was good only for the duration of the shutdown discussions.

“We’re going to have to start on a new basis, and the wall offer is off the table,” the New York Democrat said.

Mr. Schumer led a filibuster Friday to deny the government funding, saying any bill to reopen the government also had to include a plan to grant legal status to illegal immigrant Dreamers. He relented Monday, voting for funding without a plan but with a commitment from Republicans that the Senate would turn to an immigration debate in the upcoming weeks.

But that’s about all they agree on.

Mr. Schumer said the next deadline for action is Feb. 8 — when the new spending bill expires. Republicans said the deadline remains March 5, when the phaseout of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty takes effect.

Democrats also said the basis for talks should be the generous legalization negotiated by Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, which was presented to Mr. Trump this month.

“We have renewed momentum,” Mr. Schumer said.

Republicans countered that Mr. Trump rejected that deal and said new voices beyond Mr. Graham and Mr. Durbin need to be part of the negotiations.

A large group of conservatives in the House moved to make sure their voices were heard Tuesday, announcing their endorsement of a bill that couples limited legal status for Dreamers with what would be the stiffest immigration enforcement law in decades.

“The Securing America’s Future Act is the framework to strengthen border security, increase interior enforcement and resolve the DACA situation,” the Republican Study Committee said, urging party leaders to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote.

In backing the bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, conservatives have signaled that they are willing to grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.

The Goodlatte proposal would officially sanction the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty, giving it a congressional stamp of approval and ensuring Dreamers in the program can live and work without fear of being deported. In exchange, the bill would crack down on sanctuary cities, require businesses to verify their workers’ legality, cut back on abuse of the asylum system and allow faster deportation of new and repeat illegal immigrants.

Mr. Trump added his support Tuesday, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying he would sign the Goodlatte bill.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which backs stricter immigration controls, said he is not sure the plan would pass the House right now but could get there with tweaks and strong support from House Republican leaders.

“If they’re going to go mano-a-mano with the Senate bill, they need as strong a bill as possible to go into conference,” Mr. Krikorian said.

He also said Mr. Trump’s negotiating hand has been strengthened over the past week.

“Schumer, and [Rep. Luis V.] Gutierrez as well, conceded on the wall, so that’s a starting point. That’s emboldened the White House to push on the rest of its demands,” Mr. Krikorian said.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading advocate for immigrants, countered that the only way to build consensus on Capitol Hill is to start with Democrats and then add in whatever Republicans they can.

“In the last decade, the only pieces of balanced immigration reform legislation that have passed a congressional chamber were anchored to a very stubborn formula: support from most Democrats and support from some Republicans,” he said. “Literally, that is the only way to get a majority to pass decent immigration reform in both chambers.”

Mr. Sharry and other activists blasted Mr. Schumer and fellow Democrats for relenting on the shutdown fight, and that pressure is likely to intensify as the March 5 DACA deadline approaches.

Indeed, Dreamers took over Mr. Schumer’s office Tuesday to protest, and six demonstrators were arrested for disobedience. Dreamers also took over offices of five other Democrats who originally voted for the shutdown, only to retreat Monday.

The activists said they didn’t trust Republican leaders’ promises to hold an immigration debate in February.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said those fears were unfounded — as long as Democrats don’t shut down the government down.

“I intend to keep my word,” Mr. McConnell said.

For now, Mr. Trump remains the most important figure in the debate — and he is maintaining plenty of negotiating room.

He has praised the House enforcement bill, though he also has said many of the provisions could be delayed until “phase two” of an immigration debate. He has said phase one needs to focus on legalization, the border wall, an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery and limits to the chain of family migration.

But the more legalization Congress asks for, the more security and policy changes the president will demand, said Marc Short, the president’s legislative liaison.

The 690,000 people protected by the DACA program will be part of any deal, the White House has signaled — though it hasn’t said whether they would get citizenship or some legal status short of that.

At least one leading proposal in Congress envisions going much broader, granting citizenship rights to as many as 2 million Dreamers and then enacting another program to protect their parents, adding potentially 1 million more illegal immigrants to the mix.

That proposal would create yet another pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of would-be illegal immigrants in the U.S. under a temporary humanitarian protection after natural disasters in their home countries.

The White House said it’s not talking about that category of people yet.

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