President Trump will propose a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrant Dreamers, nearly tripling the Obama-era DACA program, the White House said Thursday.
Mr. Trump’s vision, which he will submit to Congress next week, would grant legal status to fewer than the 3 million people under the plan Senate Democrats have backed. But the number of people is far higher than the 690,000 in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
White House officials said they felt they had to go that far in order to demand major changes on the security side, including an end to catch-and-release of illegal immigrants snared at the border, faster deportations for those caught overstaying their visas inside the U.S. and $25 billion for Mr. Trump’s wall.
The president also will demand strict limits on the chain of family migration across the board — not just for newly legalized Dreamers.
He would allow immigrants to petition for spouses and minor children but would eliminate parents, siblings and adult children from chain migration. Extended family already in the backlog would be allowed to enter, but no further applications would be accepted.
The combination of legalization and security puts Mr. Trump squarely in the middle of the immigration debate, between Democrats who want a more generous amnesty and House Republicans who opposed citizenship and were instead pushing a massive package of security changes.
“As part of this effort to ensure there is full bipartisan support for this package, we believe the total number that will be able to apply for legal status … will be a population of individuals of 1.8 million people,” a senior White House official said.
The official said Mr. Trump wouldn’t agree to a deal on Dreamers without the border security, enforcement and policy changes.
“This is kind of a bottom line for the president,” another official told reporters at the White House.
The plan calls for a $25 billion trust fund to build Mr. Trump’s border wall and other infrastructure. That would ensure a future Congress couldn’t withhold the money.
Mr. Obama supported a path to citizenship for Dreamers but was unable to get that legislation through Congress, which was why his administration circumvented Capitol Hill to create the DACA program.
Begun in 2012, the program approved some 800,000 people for renewable two-year permits granting them a stay of deportation and authority to work in the U.S. Of those people, some 690,000 were still protected under DACA as of late last year.
Of the additional 1.1 million people Mr. Trump would enroll, about 600,000 were eligible for DACA but, for various reasons, didn’t apply, and 500,000 or so who would be admitted under adjusted timelines.
The White House called the 1.8 million “a dramatic concession by the White House to get to 60 votes in the Senate.”
It would take the immigrants 10 to 12 years to earn citizenship.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the president had embraced an amnesty that even President Obama was denied.
“I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally,” he said. “All of these proposals being floated that have a path to citizenship for DACA recipients are markedly to the left of where President Obama was. DACA itself has no path to citizenship under President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty.”
Democrats remained skeptical of Mr. Trump’s support for citizenship, which he announced to reporters on Wednesday.
“What he says on Tuesday is not necessarily what he says on Thursday,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Other Democrats said Mr. Trump’s calculus of a trade of Dreamers for the wall was still unacceptable.
“I do not support border wall funding,” said Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat.
He said he was holding out hope that Dreamers could get citizenship without a wall.
“I’m a prisoner of hope, but that does not mean I have some Pollyannaish view that this is going to work out,” said Mr. Booker. “Hope is work, hope is sacrifice, so we are going to fight this.”
Still, Sen. Michael F. Bennet, Colorado Democrat, said the president’s move toward citizenship for Dreamers was encouraging.
“I think there is a general consensus among people working on this that a pathway has to be part of it,” he said.
The White House plan could undercut efforts by House conservatives, who back a much tougher security plan. That would grant the 690,000 people under DACA a new legal status of three-year work permits, approved by Congress, in exchange for 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 White House said it envisioned Mr. Trump’s plan as the basis for Senate negotiations but expected the House to pass its own bill.
“We’re not trying to force something on the House at this point. I think the House has got its own independent process,” an adviser said.
The White House said the president’s plan would boost security at the northern border as well, which could entice senators in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota who are calling for attention to the U.S.-Canada line.
Mr. Trump’s plan would cancel the Diversity Visa Lottery, which gives 50,000 visas per year based on chance. Those visas would be recaptured and used to reduce the backlog in merit-based migration.
The president also asked Congress to allow faster deportations for those who overstay their visitors’ visas, who could account for half of all new illegal immigration.
Mr. Trump said Congress must change the laws to help end the catch-and-release policy that applies to countries other than Mexico and Canada who cannot be quickly turned back home.
Under the current system, migrants who cannot be detained are released with the hope that they will return for their deportation hearings. They rarely do.
The White House said it had dozens of other enforcement changes it could have demanded, such as E-Verify, but it would pursue those later.
“This is the first bite,” said a White House official. “There is a second phase to this. There are 11 million people who live here illegally.”
The plan is unlikely to please activists on either side of the debate.
Indeed, immigrant rights groups were skeptical even after Mr. Trump said he would support full citizenship rights.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, called it “a spoonful of sugar before the bitter medicine of Trump’s far-reaching nativist agenda.”
“No way. We won’t stand for it,” he said. “They don’t get to exploit a crisis they created to take a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty.”