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White House immigration proposal has critics on the left and the right

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Immigration advocates gather for a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Democrats and Republicans are relaunching the search for an immigration deal, fueled by fresh promises for a Senate vote, new concessions and goodwill after the agreement to reopen the federal government. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

WASHINGTON — The White House “framework” for immigration legislation released on Thursday night — which includes a pathway to citizenship for about 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants along with strict measures to curb other migrants and secure the border — has drawn criticism from leading figures on all sides of the debate.

The administration’s proposal came less than a week after the government shut down over the issue, with Democrats saying they would not sign off on a funding bill that did not include measures to address the expiring DACA program, which shielded about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump’s package includes a DACA fix for “a total population of approximately 1.8 million individuals,” extending the protections to the original beneficiaries of the program as well as others who would be eligible but had not applied. But the administration’s framework also includes measures that Democrats strongly oppose, including eliminating the diversity visa lottery and limiting family unification visas to “spouses and minor children only” rather than extended family members.

Top Democrats blasted the proposal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the framework represented a “50 percent cut to legal immigration.” She described it as “anti-immigrant” and “an act of staggering cowardice.” Pelosi noted the proposal came on the heels of Trump’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status programs for Central Americans and Haitians fleeing difficult conditions in their countries, and she described the combined effect as a “cruel agenda.”

“They are part of the Trump administration’s unmistakable campaign to make America white again,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi accused Trump of using DACA recipients as a “hostage” in order to enact the other elements of “a hateful agenda.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made a similar argument on Twitter Friday morning.

“While @realDonaldTrump finally acknowledged that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay here and become citizens, he uses them as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years,” Schumer wrote.

Slideshow: Activists protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies >>>

While Democrats described the proposal as something of a Trojan horse with the DACA fix carrying a slew of anti-immigrant measures, conservatives who have been among the staunchest opponents of illegal immigration also were upset with the plan. NumbersUSA, a lobbying organization that advocates reductions in both legal and illegal immigration, issued a statement Thursday night announcing opposition to the framework. NumbersUSA president Roy Beck described it as “mass amnesty” for undocumented immigrants due to the DACA protections. Beck also criticized the plan to curb extended family immigration as insufficient.

“Under the White House framework, young-adult illegal border crossers and visa overstayers would get immediate benefits, including, most importantly, the right to compete with Americans in the permanent job market. But vulnerable American workers would get little or no relief from the competition of chain migration for 15 to 20 years. Even if new applications for chain migration categories are stopped immediately, the framework would allow chain migration to continue for decades by allowing all of the four million foreigners in the waiting list to continue coming,” Beck said.

Breitbart, the conservative website that previously employed key Trump administration advisers and is often identified as a voice of his base, was similarly critical of the DACA protections. The site featured a banner headline blasting Trump as “Amnesty Don.”

Along with the DACA fix and cuts to other legal immigration programs, Trump’s immigration framework contains a “$25 billion trust fund for the border wall system” and other border security measures. The proposal called for “appropriating additional funds” to make new hires at the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the framework, the additional staff and security measures would help “ensure the prompt removal of illegal border-crossers regardless of country of origin” and “deter visa overstays with efficient removal.”

The framework did draw support from Republicans on Capitol Hill — and from Trump’s own Cabinet. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who is known as a hard-liner on immigration, issued a statement Thursday night lauding it as “generous and humane, while also being responsible.”

“It protects those eligible for DACA, who are here through no fault of their own. But it also will prevent us from ending up back here in five years by securing the border and putting an end to extended-family chain migration. The president’s willingness to grandfather everyone in the current immigrant backlog also shows he’s serious about reaching a bipartisan solution,” Cotton said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent out a statement of his own describing the framework as “guidance” on “what is necessary for the president to sign a bill into law” and expressing hope that “members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework” as they debate on the issue.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen also praised the plan in a statement, saying it included measures her staff has requested to address border security issues.

“The Department of Homeland Security fully supports the president’s security-focused immigration framework, including funding for the border wall system, the ability to quickly remove those who break our immigration laws and reforms to our immigration system,” Nielsen said, adding, “This is what DHS frontline personnel have asked for to secure our borders and maintain the integrity of our immigration system. I thank the president for his leadership on this important issue and look forward to continuing my efforts on the Hill to pass these important reforms.”

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