White House, Dem deal on immigration proved unattainable
WASHINGTON (AP) — An effort to protect young Dreamer immigrants from deportation never really had much chance of squeezing into the last bill Congress must pass this election year. That’s why bargainers from both parties were surprised when the White House tried anyway.
The catch: It was bait to win more money for President Donald Trump’s precious border wall with Mexico. The last-gasp White House attempt came as bargainers completed the $1.3 trillion spending deal that neared final congressional approval Thursday, participants and observers of the budget negotiations said this week.
The immigration talks failed, and Trump ended up getting $1.6 billion for his wall and other border security steps, just a year’s worth of funds. That left prospects dim that Congress would act this year to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, or that Trump would get much more money for his wall as Democrats eyeing a potential House takeover in November’s elections become increasingly resistant to helping him.
“Until they stop acting like idiots and stop trying to use Dreamers as hostages to pass their stupid xenophobic laws and stupid ideas like the border wall, nothing changes,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Trump took a different view, expressed in a tweet late Wednesday: “Democrats refused to take care of DACA. Would have been so easy, but they just didn’t care. I had to fight for Military and start of Wall.”
By one account, Trump began calling congressional GOP leaders two weeks ago saying he wanted long-term funding for his wall and would trade it for a short-term renewal of DACA. Trump ended the program last year, though federal judges have ordered the administration to keep renewing DACA’s two-year permits until legal challenges to Trump’s action are resolved.
A different person said that in talks Sunday at the Capitol, White House officials said they wanted $25 billion — the full amount Trump has proposed for the wall — in exchange for extending DACA protections through September 2020. When Democrats countered that for that sum they wanted a chance at citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants in DACA, the White House turned it down and chances for a deal dissipated.
The program, created by President Barack Obama, temporarily shields from deportation a group of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The talks were described by aides and advocacy groups from both sides on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were conducted privately.
Bargainers also discussed trading a three-year DACA extension for three years of wall money, some sources said, or five for five.
Some said the administration went further and also wanted Democrats to include more money for enforcement agents and beds for detained immigrants and include language making it easier to deport immigrants in gangs, steps they were unwilling to take.
Democrats rejected another proposal from the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said one senior GOP congressional source. It would have traded three years of wall money for three more years of protecting DACA recipients and added thousands more immigrants as they became old enough to qualify for that program, the source said.
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said that at one point, he phoned Ryan and told him of Chicago medical students having problems getting residency placements at hospitals because of uncertainty over how long their DACA protections would last.
“He told me he wants to see the problem solved and would try to do it,” Durbin said.
In the end, even a simple compromise — a DACA extension for wall money — had little chance of succeeding since the formula had long encountered opposition from both sides and internal divisions, too.
Large numbers of Republicans don’t want to protect immigrants here illegally, period, and Ryan has been reluctant to call a House vote on any proposal a GOP majority opposes. Other Republicans have wanted a deal, arguing that immigrants help the economy and booting hundreds of thousands of them who’ve lived here since childhood can be a damaging political problem in November.
“We just blew a great opportunity to do something substantial on immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s long sought a bipartisan deal on the issue. “I think the White House overplayed their hand.”
Some Democrats say bringing any stability to immigrants perpetually worried about deportation would be worth the trade-off. But many despise the idea of helping Trump build his wall in exchange for a temporary reprieve for DACA immigrants.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Daly contributed to this report.