A bipartisan group of senators has struck an initial deal that would shield “DREAMers” from deportation in exchange for more money for border security and changes to some immigration programs — but senior White House officials and congressional GOP hardliners made it clear it’s a nonstarter almost as soon as it materialized.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), part of a bipartisan working group, told reporters Thursday that the group he was involved with, along with two other Republican senators and three Democrats, had reached a bipartisan agreement to give immigrants brought here illegally as children permanent legal status in exchange for some new restrictions on so-called “chain migration” and the visa lottery program.
“We are at a deal,” Flake told reporters. “It’s the only game in town.”
But White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short immediately dismissed the nascent deal as he exited a meeting with senators Thursday afternoon, saying the White House still opposed backing a DREAM Act to give immigrants brought here as minors legal status rather than just renewing the legal standing of the 700,000 or so people currently in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and wanted to see more restrictions on other immigration programs in exchange.
“There’s still a ways to go,” he said. “We’re pleased the bipartisan members are talking… but I still think there’s a ways to go,” Short said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders agreed.
“There’s only one member that said there was a deal reached and the other members are well in sync on the same page that we haven’t quite gotten there but we feel like we’re close,” she said Thursday afternoon. “We’re going to keep having these conversations. The President had a meeting here today with a number of members, both from the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, as a follow-up discussion on immigration. And again, we feel very strongly that we can get a deal made.”
The bipartisan group — including Flake as well as Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) — put out a statement lauding the deal shortly after White House officials made it clear they weren’t on board.
“President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge. We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act—the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress,” the statement read.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a hawk on legal and illegal immigration who has been part of most recent White House meetings, trashed the agreement. He bashed both the changes Democrats offered on current visa programs as well as the deal to do a full DREAM Act.
“Of course there’s no deal,” he said, claiming he’d made “a pretty big offer on my end” to let DACA recipients stay in the country and claiming that Democrats “have not offered anything legitimate in return. That’s not the way negotiations go.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Thursday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the details of the deal himself, and that nothing had been finalized.
Trump continues to demand funding for building a border wall, though what exactly that means is open to interpretation and varies day-to-day. He wants to both see an end to a visa lottery and restrictions on “chain migration,” where legal immigrants bring in family members. Democrats have been willing to discuss changes to those programs, but aren’t willing to go nearly as far as people like Cotton or hardline White House advisers like Stephen Miller want.
The fight is tied to a battle for continued government funding, as many Democrats have said they won’t support any plan that doesn’t include a DACA fix. The government runs out of funds in less than a week, and without a deal a government shutdown is possible, though both sides think they’ll be able to reach some form of agreement before then.