The Trump administration rejected a bipartisan Senate proposal to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation, saying it needed more work.
“We’re pleased that bipartisan members are talking,” President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short said Thursday, but added, “I think there’s still a ways to go.”
Short said the administration is concerned about a number of issues including the amount of protection at the U.S.-Mexico border and family preferences for immigrants. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, "We still believe we can get there."
Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the six-senator negotiating group, said after presenting the proposal at the White House that he hoped it would lead to "a breakthrough" on immigration.
Democrats are demanding protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as "dreamers," as part of a spending bill to keep the federal government open after current funding ends Jan. 19. Trump decided in September to end the Obama-era initiative on March 5. The Department of Homeland Security counts 690,000 people currently enrolled in the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois released a joint statement by the six Senate negotiators — three Republicans and three Democrats — that said their plan addresses Trump’s insistence on addressing border security, limits to family priority in immigration and an end to a visa lottery to promote diversity.
"We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress," the senators said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters there is "no point" in doing another short-term spending bill unless lawmakers have an agreement on the dreamers.
Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who isn’t part of the group, said he spoke with Trump and the president told him the negotiators need to get wider approval of the plan before moving ahead.
Immigration hardliner Senator Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, called the proposal "a joke," saying it didn’t go far enough in particular to end immigration family preferences.
According to one GOP aide and another congressional staffer familiar with the deal, the proposal would provide a path to citizenship for the young immigrants. Their parents could get renewable legal status although they couldn’t become citizens. Some of the immigration slots under the visa lottery program would be used for all people in the the U.S. who have lost their temporary protected status, and some would be used for people from low-immigration countries.
On border security, the plan would provide $2.8 billion, including $1.6 billion for a border barrier, technical surveillance and agent training, plus another $1.2 billion for other border priorities, the aides said.
Cotton said the plan falls short of Trump’s request for border wall funds. While Trump said throughout his campaign that Mexico would pay for the border wall, he’s been seeking money from Congress.
The Wall Street Journal quoted him Thursday as saying in an interview that Mexico can pay for a wall through the North American Free Trade Agreement. "I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going toward the wall," the president was quoted as saying.
Cotton said he’s willing to support legal residence for the DACA recipients, with the right to eventually gain U.S. citizenship. He said he agrees with the White House that they should be allowed to sponsor spouses and minor children for legal residence, but not siblings or adult children.
Democrats need to give more in return, Cotton said, including ending the diversity visa program and more border security. The Trump administration has proposed $18 billion over a decade to build a wall.
Third-ranking Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota said it will take more time to build a consensus.
"We have different groups working on it right now. Hopefully they’ll eventually come together,” Thune said.