Trump refuses to yield on immigration, causing more division on Capitol Hill

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As the Senate races to make a deal, president says that any immigration bill must include drastic changes to legal immigration

Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC Wednesday. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump reaffirmed a hardline position on a prospective immigration deal on Wednesday, throwing a wrench into fraught negotiations over how to protect hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

As the US Senate scrambles to broker an agreement by the end of the week, Trump made clear in a statement that any immigration bill must include drastic changes to legal immigration in order to earn his signature.

The president also threatened to veto any legislation that did not meet the threshold of accomplishing the “four pillars” laid out in a framework released by the White House last month, and he endorsed a proposal authored by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, that mirrors Trump’s preferred approach.

(August 16, 2015) 

Upon announcing his presidential bid Donald Trump makes hardline immigration reform central to his campaign and pledges to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).

“I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration,” he says.

(December 7, 2016) 

Weeks after winning the White House, ​​President-elect Trump appears to soften his stance on Dreamers. Despite offering no specific policy he promises to “work something out”.

“On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation.” he tells T​​ime magazine.

(February 16, 2017) 

Trump acknowledges the fraught road to a solution, describing Daca as a “very difficult thing for me as I love these kids”.

“I have to deal with a lot of politicians,” Trump says. “And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.”

(February 5, 2017) 

Trump abruptly announces ​​he will end Daca, phasing out applications for renewal by March 2018. ​​The president insists the decision provides a “window of opportunity for Congress to finally act”.

(September 14, 2017) 

Following talks with Democrats, Trump hints a deal may be close, but suggests it wouldn’t include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

“We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty,” Trump tells reporters.

(January 9, 2018) 

Trump promises to “take the heat” for a bipartisan Daca bill being brokered by senators. But within days he revokes his support, calling the bipartisan plan “a big step backwards”.​ The US government shuts down after negotiations over the budget and a Dreamers solution collapse.

(January 24, 2018) 

With the government reopened with a temporary bill, Trump tells reporters he is now open to a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers “over a period of 10-12 years” if the individual “does a great job, they work hard​”.

The Grassley bill would offer a pathway to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million Dreamers, provide funding toward Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border, terminate a so-called visa lottery program for immigrants from underrepresented countries, and scale back legal immigration based on family reunification.

“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars – that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” Trump said.

“The overwhelming majority of American voters support a plan that fulfills the Framework’s four pillars, which move us towards the safe, modern, and lawful immigration system our people deserve.”

Trump’s push for changes to legal immigration has divided Republicans on Capitol Hill, even as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, threw his support behind the president on Tuesday. Some Republicans, along with the overwhelming majority of Democrats, have argued the current immigration debate should center on Dreamers and border security – and not more contentious issues that would derail the chances of reaching a deal.

The crisis over Dreamers was brought on by Trump’s decision in September to rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as Daca, which enabled roughly 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and obtain temporary legal status.

Trump gave Congress until 5 March to replace the program through legislation and initially signaled he would be open to a compromise containing more modest border security measures and even suggested in a meeting last month that he was open to signing any immigration agreement that came to his desk. But faced with backlash from his base, Trump swiftly reversed course and retreated back to the hard-right immigration agenda that defined his presidential campaign

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, swiftly accused Trump of thwarting ongoing bipartisan talks between Democrats and a group of moderate Republicans.

“The one person who seems most intent on not getting a deal is President Trump,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday shortly after Trump’s statement.

“As much as the president wants the world to be upside down, as much as he wants everyone to just accept what he’s saying, the American people know better,” he added.

“Everyone here knows that President Trump has stood in the way of a bipartisan solution to Daca from the very beginning.”

The escalating tensions come as the Senate began a formal debate this week on immigration, with several different groups working behind the scenes to hash out a deal.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, White House officials framed Trump’s framework as a “balanced middle ground”. The administration also rejected a more narrowly tailored bipartisan bill by the Arizona senator John McCain and the Delaware senator Chris Coons, which would enact protections for Dreamers and beef up border security.

Echoing the president’s tough line, the officials said the compromise would “increase illegal immigration, surge chain migration, continue catch and release, and give a pathway to citizenship to convicted alien felons”.

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