In a dramatic move that could portend the passage of a major immigration reform package in the coming weeks, the Trump administration on Thursday outlined a set of policy proposals that gives serious ground to reform advocates but preserves some of President Donald Trump’s efforts to curb legal immigration.
The administration’s legislative framework for a bipartisan immigration bill will include a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million people, White House policy chief Stephen Miller said during a surrogate conference call that included Capitol Hill Republican aides.
Miller, describing the White House’s outline as one that includes “extremely generous provisions” and “dramatic concessions” to Democrats, said the administration’s plan allows for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants to have a pathway to American citizenship if they have “work history, the right amount of education, and good moral character.”
That number includes the nearly 700,000 people currently protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, plus individuals who did not apply for DACA “but otherwise met its requirements,” according to Miller.
Miller spoke on a briefing call for White House surrogates, members of Congress, and their staff. The Daily Beast obtained an access code for the closed press call, but not from the White House. The call was conducted “on background” per the host. But since The Daily Beast was not invited to the call we did not agree to adhere to those conditions.
A document being passed around by immigration lobbyists, a copy of which was provided to The Daily Beast, says the pathway to citizenship would take place over a period of 10 to 12 years.
The legislative framework, which will be released in full on Monday, also includes $25 billion in funds for border security measures including a “wall system.” Miller said the plan also includes a “historic investment in northern border security.”
Miller, a noted immigration hardliner and a close adviser to Trump, said the White House’s outline represents “a compromise position that we believe will get 60 votes in the Senate.” He said the bipartisan “Gang of Six” plan unveiled earlier this month is dead on arrival and “has no chance of going anywhere or ever becoming law” because it does not include what the White House views as must-have provisions.
The plan also cuts back on legal immigration by dismantling the so-called chain migration system, which allows lawful permanent residents to sponsor immigrants who want to come to the United States. Under the Trump administration’s proposal, family sponsorships will be limited to “spouses and minor children,” effectively ending what Miller called “extended family migration that’s a major driver of low-skilled immigration, [and] undermines public safety and national security.”
Additionally, those changes will not be applied retroactively, meaning that applications currently being processed would continue to be considered even after the legislation is signed.
“It’s where law enforcement is, it’s where the American people are in terms of ending illegal immigration and ending extended family migration and creating a national-interest immigration system—rather than a proposal that is in the leftward-most part of the Republican party and the leftward-most part of the Democratic party,” Miller said.
Moreover, the visa lottery program—which prioritizes immigrants from parts of the world where immigration to the U.S. is the lowest—will be scrapped in favor of a system that Miller described as “high-skill based.”
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has been focused on a much slimmer legislative path forward—one that addresses DACA and border security, but could leave the issues of chain migration and the visa lottery system behind. Such a plan would likely face resistance from the House, where Republican lawmakers have already coalesced around a more conservative immigration bill that is more in line with the White House’s priorities.
Lawmakers reacted swiftly on Thursday to the legislative framework, with Democrats dismissing the effort and Republicans, for the most part, embracing it. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) described the $25 billion in border security funding as “ransom for Dreamers with cuts to legal immigration and increases to deportations.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), meanwhile, said in a statement that lawmakers should “look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement.” McConnell expressed concern earlier this month that it wasn’t clear what Trump supports or opposes with regard to immigration, urging his colleagues to come up with a plan that passes muster with the president.
Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who has worked closely with Trump on immigration policy, said members of Congress should be “eager to support” the White House’s framework, adding: “We all want a good deal, and here it is.”
But in some conservative circles, the White House proposal was met with feisty opposition. Critics in particular slammed the provision allowing for a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants, with the far-right website Breitbart blaring “Don’s Amnesty Bonanza” on its home page.