President Trump said Wednesday that he will support a path to grant illegal immigrant Dreamers citizenship in 10 to 12 years, taking a firm step toward Democrats’ stance and potentially paving the way for a broader deal.
The declaration, which the president made to reporters at the White House, goes further than the administration had been suggesting. Officials previously indicated that the president supported some form of permanent legal status for Dreamers but stopped short of saying that should result in citizenship.
Mr. Trump, though, said he envisions a path lasting a decade or slightly longer, which is similar to what the bipartisan Gang of Six presented to him this month.
“We’re going to morph into it. It’s going to happen at some point in the future over a period of 10 to 12 years,” he said, according to news reports — though he cast citizenship not as a guarantee for all, but as an incentive for Dreamers who become productive members of society.
Mr. Trump also said he would consider extending the March 5 phaseout date for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is protecting some 690,000 Dreamers.
That contradicts his Justice Department and Homeland Security secretary, who have told Congress and the federal courts that DACA is illegal and cannot be maintained or extended.
Mr. Trump’s argument could undercut the Justice Department while it prepares to argue the illegality of DACA to the Supreme Court.
“The attorney general has made it clear that he believes such exercise is unconstitutional. It’s for Congress to fix,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate this month.
Mr. Trump’s new stance on citizenship appears to answer complaints from Capitol Hill that he was hindering their negotiations by rejecting plans without offering anything himself.
The White House said Mr. Trump would lay out a plan Monday dealing with all four aspects he said are needed: a solution for Dreamers, funding for his border wall, limits to the chain of family migration and an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery that gives green cards based on chance.
The president’s comments seem to lock in the White House on the generosity of the legalization he envisions for Dreamers.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Trump had just made the job of reaching a deal on Capitol Hill much easier.
“This statement represents presidential leadership on immigration that will allow us to solve a difficult problem,” he said. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.”
Mr. Graham said Mr. Trump has a chance to succeed where Presidents Obama and George W. Bush failed.
“Today’s DACA recipients can be tomorrow’s Trump Dreamers,” he said.
Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, a senior Democrat, offered Mr. Trump a deal that would have granted millions of Dreamers a full pathway to citizenship in exchange for less than 10 percent of his border wall. They offered no substantive changes on chain migration but did nix the visa lottery — though they said those visas should go to a new amnesty for Haitians, Salvadorans and others who are about to be deported from the U.S. once their protections end.
The president rejected that plan as weak.
He still hasn’t said how many Dreamers would be covered by his pathway to citizenship. The low end is the 690,000 protected by DACA, but some lawmakers say the number could be as high as 3 million.
But Mr. Trump did offer details on his border wall, saying he wants $25 billion for construction and another $5 billion for other needs. That is higher than the nearly $20 billion proposal that Homeland Security sent to Congress this month.
The president also said family migration should be limited to spouses and minor children — though he said dealing with parents was “tricky.”
He also said that while he wants to eliminate the diversity lottery, the visas could be used for merit-based immigration.
His comments undercut House conservatives, who had been pushing a much tougher plan to couple tentative legal status for Dreamers with a long list of improvements to security, including mandatory use of E-Verify for employers to check work status, curtailing abuse of the asylum system, cracking down on sanctuary cities and punishing repeat illegal immigrants.
The president’s willingness to deal on citizenship stands in stark contrast to the White House’s tone earlier this week, when officials accused Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, of trying to hoodwink Mr. Trump into a bad deal.
The White House says Mr. Schumer agreed to authorize, but not allocate, $25 billion for the wall in exchange for a full legalization. Authorized money can be withheld, while appropriated money must be spent.
The talks between Mr. Schumer and Mr. Trump collapsed a week ago, and the Democrat led his party into a filibuster that led to a three-day government shutdown.
On Tuesday, after the government reopened, Mr. Schumer said his wall offer was off the table.
He has also moved to cut Mr. Trump out of deal-making, saying negotiations with him were like talking to Jell-O. Mr. Schumer said responsibility for writing a plan would now rest with a bipartisan group of senators.
“The bipartisan working group will have to fill the void left by the president, who has proven an unreliable and ineffective negotiator over the course of this debate,” Mr. Schumer said Wednesday.
Mr. Schumer said the pressure was on Republicans to move toward Democrats with a plan to save the Dreamers before the March 5 phaseout.
“We cannot let those who are anti-immigrant, who call giving the DREAMers hope ‘amnesty,’ block us. Because then we will fail, and it will be on the other side of the aisle that made that happen,” he said.
Hours earlier, Mr. Trump had taken to Twitter to blast Mr. Schumer.
“Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA. We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!” the president said in a tweet.
Even as Mr. Schumer and Mr. Trump took shots at each other, the bipartisan group of senators began its work. They met Wednesday and emerged to say they were trying to come up with a process for raising and deciding on ideas for an immigration deal.
Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, and Mr. Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, will play gatekeeper for the ideas.
During votes Wednesday Mr. Cornyn sat with a number of colleagues talking over chain migration and the extent of a legalization program — including a pathway to citizenship.
Mr. Durbin was also on the chamber floor to sound out colleagues’ ideas.