President Donald Trump proposed a plan to offer three years of protection for DREAMers and people holding temporary protected status (TPS) visas in exchange for border wall funding from Democrats, as part of a new bid on Saturday to end the partial government shutdown, which is now the longest on record.
"I am here today to break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward to end the government shutdown," said Trump in a 13-minute address from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.
But even before Trump announced his plan on Saturday, the plan was labeled a nonstarter by Democrats.
Trump announced he was offering three years of protections for some 700,000 current recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who had come to the US as children, "in order to build the trust and goodwill necessary to begin real immigration reform [with Democrats]."
Since coming to power, Trump has pushed hard to end DACA protections introduced by former president Barack Obama, which allowed undocumented people who came to the US as children, known as DREAMers, the right to be protected from deportation. Trump declared in September 2017 that he was rescinding DACA, a decision that was temporarily blocked by a federal court last November. The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review the case.
Trump also offered three years of protections on Saturday to TPS visa holders: immigrants who've been allowed to work and live in the US freely because of dangerous or unsafe conditions in their home countries. There are currently 300,000 TPS holders in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the bill to a vote this week, although McConnell had previously said he would only bring a vote to the floor if it had the support of both Republican and Democrat leaders.
"Everyone has made their point — now it’s time to make a law," said McConnell in a statement.
The move by the president to use legal protections for DREAMers and TPS holders as a bargaining chip is a bid to convince Democrats to support funding for his wall on the southern border with Mexico — something the party has strongly opposed. Trump said Saturday that the wall he now envisaged was not a single structure. "This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high-priority locations," said the president.
Trump's proposal received a frosty reception from Democrats.
"Unfortunately, initial reports make clear that his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement prior to the president's speech.
"I cannot support the proposed offer as reported and do not believe it can pass the Senate," added Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
A senior House Democratic aide dismissed Trump's proposal, saying that Democrats were not consulted and that similar offers had already been refused.
"This is not a compromise, as it includes the same wasteful, ineffective $5.7 billion wall demand that shut down the government in the first place," said the aide, arguing that the plan cannot pass the House or Senate.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Democrats were willing to offer an extra $1 billion in border spending as part of the shutdown negotiations, citing two Democrat officials. The money would be spent on infrastructure at existing ports of entry, as well as funding 75 immigration judges, but not on any wall construction.
On Saturday, Trump also promised funding for 75 new immigration judges.
Additionally, he proposed to reintroduce a version of the Obama-era Central American Minors program, which Trump dismantled in 2017, that prescreened children from Central America whose parents were in the United States in order to discourage them making the dangerous journey across the border. Trump didn't give details about the proposal but said it was "a new system to allow Central American minors to apply for asylum in their home countries."
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter that Trump was proposing "amnesty" to DREAMers. "We voted for Trump and got Jeb!" she said, referring to former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
The government has been in a partial shutdown for 29 days, with some 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or working without pay.
Trump sparked the shutdown by refusing to sign a spending bill unless it contained $5.7 billion in funding to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. During the election, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for a wall to be built.
"As a candidate for president, I promised I would fix this crisis, and I intend to keep that promise one way or the other," said Trump on Saturday.
"This is a commonsense compromise both parties should embrace," he said.
Since the shutdown began, Trump has repeatedly said the wall funding was needed because of a "humanitarian crisis" crisis at the border, pointing out the sharp increase in children and families who are crossing the border.
He has also threatened to declare a national emergency in order to access military funding to build the wall.
However, Trump's own policies have helped create a humanitarian crisis at the border by tightening ports of entry and slowing the processing of asylum applications, which has resulted in immigrants crossing the border in more remote and dangerous areas or waiting in squalid conditions at border ports.