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Congress Responds To White House Immigration Plan


The White House has now specified an immigration plan that President Trump will accept. And isn't that a change, Sue Davis?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: It is. There was a lot of frustration on Capitol Hill not knowing where the president was. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans were waiting to see what the president would support. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it is like negotiating with jello.

INSKEEP: This is part of the reason they had this train wreck that ended in the government shutdown the other day.

DAVIS: Correct.

INSKEEP: They couldn't figure out what the president wanted. Sue, we should mention, covers Congress for NPR News - NPR's Susan Davis. So what will the president approve?

DAVIS: The president and the White House have released a proposal that has four main items in it. The first is a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people. This includes the 800,000 people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But it would also apply to everyone who would qualify for that program, which is how you get to 1.8 million.

INSKEEP: All those people brought to the United States illegally as children and - are at least eligible for this status, OK.

DAVIS: Right, these are the people you often hear referred to as DREAMers. He's also asking for a lot of money for the wall. They want $25 billion upfront for both a border wall system and more money for immigration law enforcement. And they want tougher crackdowns on legal immigration - specifically on family-based immigration policies and a visa lottery program that gives slots to 50,000 people a year to come into the country.

INSKEEP: OK, lots to discuss here - and, of course, the idea is to somehow get something through Congress before a deadline that's coming up for DACA recipients, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. First, the path to citizenship - this is actually more than President Obama was able to grant DACA recipients. It goes farther because it talks about eventual citizenship for people brought illegally. Will the president's own party buy this?

DAVIS: He has a significant amount of support for this idea in the Republican Party and in a place where it matters - in the United States Senate. Even immigration hard-liners like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas have said he can get on board for this proposal as long as it has these legal immigration reductions. That is going to be the debate. You know, Democrats have conceded they are willing to give up a little bit of what money for the wall even if they hate the wall, right? That's the horse trade they've been willing to do. Legal immigration is very controversial. Democrats don't believe you need these crackdowns. And neither do a lot of traditional Republican allies. The business community in this country, long allied with the Republican Party, has long advocated for legal immigration because they say it's good for the U.S. economy.

INSKEEP: Let's be clear what we're talking about here. Legal immigration - so if you reduce that, you're essentially saying too many foreigners are coming into this country - too many outsiders. We don't like it for cultural or economic reasons. And we want to reduce that. That is the proposal on the table.

DAVIS: It is. And that's why Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put out a statement very critical of this proposal and saying that it was, in her words, quote, "part of the Trump administration's unmistakable campaign to make America white again," which shows you how the reception is among Democrats. If they can't resolve this part of this puzzle, it's going to make a deal very difficult. And I think that's why there's still a lot of hope on Capitol Hill they can get a deal. But the pessimism that they can thread the needle on all these issues is certainly there.

INSKEEP: The question is can you get some Republican and Democratic votes even though lots of Republicans and Democrats hate something in this measure.

DAVIS: I think that is, unfortunately for everyone involved, often the key to compromise.

INSKEEP: Sue, thanks very much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.