A group of Republican and Democratic senators have reached a bipartisan deal that would fund President Trump’s promised border wall while allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented people to remain in the country.
The president, though, already appears to be lambasting the deal as a "big step backwards," and it could die in Congress. But it is the most significant breakthrough yet in the negotiations over what to do with the so-called DREAMers — 800,000 people who came, undocumented, to the United States as children and have lived in legal limbo ever since.
In recent years, young, undocumented immigrants have remained in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, created by President Obama. Trump ended the program in the fall and it expires in March.
For Republicans, the deal includes $1.6 billion in new border wall funding plus another $1.1 billion in border security infrastructure, according to sources involved with the talks. Other GOP victories include measures to end so-called chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program.
The negotiating group that struck the deal is made up of Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner on the Republican side, and Sens. Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, and Bob Menendez on the Democratic side.
The main appeal for Democrats is that the deal includes the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. The path would take 12 years, though in practice it would become a 10-year path because they will get two years of credit.
The deal is sure to draw fire from both the left and right. Even if it reaches 60 votes needed to pass the Senate it would also need to pass the House, where a faction of Republicans oppose amnesty for DACA recipients, and many Democrats strongly oppose any funding to build a border wall.
It will then need to be approved by Trump, who has given contradictory statements about what he believes should happen to DACA recipients. The deal would keep the door open to thousands of immigrants from places that Trump derided as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting Thursday.
Trump appeared to throw very cold water on the deal in a series of tweets Friday morning, though the details of the proposed bipartisan deal do not exactly line up with his specific criticism.
Sources say the deal would eliminate the temporary visa lottery system, which awards visas to up to 50,000 people per year from countries with low rates of immigration to the US, a key priority for Trump. But those slots would still be allocated, at least in part, to the Temporary Protected Status program that brings in immigrants from countries reeling from natural disasters or civil conflict.
The Trump administration announced Monday that almost 200,000 Salvadorans who had been staying in the country under the Temporary Protected Status program will have to return to El Salvador by Fall of 2019.
The deal strikes a compromise on chain migration, wherein new citizens bring their relatives into the country, who in turn bring in more relatives. “Ending” chain migration was a key stated goal of Republicans in these talks.
Under the deal, parents of DACA recipients would not be able to obtain citizenship through their children. However, they would gain protected status and work authorization for three years, which would be renewable.
The deal allows Republicans to tout that they have broken the chain, while Democrats could say that parents of DACA recipients are protected through the end of this administration, and a future president would have the chance to extend their stay.
The big questions now are if, and when, it would pass Congress, and how it could change to win Trump's support.
Democrats had hoped to tie DACA talks to a budget spending bill that needs to be passed by Jan. 19 in order to avoid a government shutdown. They saw this as giving them maximum leverage in negotiations. But Republicans appear to be eyeing a slower pace. Flake said Thursday that the goal is to release legislation by the end of January and pass it before DACA expires in March.