U.S. President Donald Trump is using the “Dreamers,” the young undocumented immigrants that were brought into the country as children, as a bargaining chip with Democrat lawmakers in order to advance some of his harshest anti-immigration policies yet.
White House officials said Trump is offering a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million young Dreamers, expanding the DACA program which covers 700,000 young immigrants, in return for Democrats accepting measures that would curb some legal immigration programs and provide for a border wall with Mexico.
Trump in September suspended The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program for Dreamers which was created by Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. The president gave Congress a March deadline to come up with an alternative to the program.
However, after mounting pressure from Dreamers activists, Democratic lawmakers have been pressing for the reauthorization of the program or at least garanting protections from deportation for the young immigrants.
While the plan calls for doubling the number of Dreamers, it is far from generous as it only allows the immigrants to apply for citizenship after 10 to 12 years and only if they have jobs and have not committed any crimes.
Meanwhile in return for the conditioned protection, Trump wants to deal significant blows to immigration laws and policies and advance his xenophobic campaign promises.
The plan would require Congress to set up a US$25 billion "trust fund" to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico, one of his key promises during the 2016 presidential campaign, and invest in better protections at the northern border with Canada.
Congress would have to allocate additional money, about US$5 billion, to border guards and immigration judges. The White House also wants lawmakers to change rules to allow for the rapid deportation of undocumented immigrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada who arrive at the U.S. border.
The plan would also end a visa lottery program for certain countries and limit family sponsorship of legal immigrants to spouses and minor children, ending sponsorship for parents, older children and siblings.
The plan was immediately criticized by pro-immigration groups calling it a bad trade-off. A group of immigrant youth called United We Dream said the deal was “pitting us against our own parents, Black immigrants and our communities.”
The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the Trump plan used Dreamers as "bargaining chips for sweeping anti-immigrant policies."
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who has championed the cause of the Dreamers, said the plan put Trump's "entire hardline immigration agenda, including massive cuts to legal immigration, on the backs of these young people."
Stephen Legomsky, who was chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, called the plan a “horrendous tradeoff” and predicted Democrats would reject it.
The fight over protections for Dreamers was part of the latest standoff between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate last week that resulted in a three-day government shutdown that ended Monday.
Democrats wanted the government spending bill to include protections for the 700,000 young immigrants which the Republicans flatly refused. Earlier this week a bill was approved to fund the government until Feb. 6, giving the lawmakers a small window to come up with an immigration plan.