Trump held an extraordinary public negotiation with Congress on immigration

  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wanted a "bill of love" that protected young unauthorized immigrants in exchange for border security.
  • His comments came during a rare, lengthy, public meeting with members of both parties of Congress.
  • He said he would back a two-phase approach to immigration reform that first bolsters the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and border security and then later addresses more comprehensive immigration reform.


President Donald Trump said in a wild, freewheeling public meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday that he wanted to enact bipartisan immigration reform, which he called a "bill of love," that both secured the border and resolved the fate of young unauthorized immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is expiring.

"Maybe we can do something," Trump said. "We have a lot of good people in this room, a lot of people that have a great spirit for taking care of people we represent."

In the highly unusual, 45-plus-minute negotiations that aired on news networks afterward, a bipartisan group of lawmakers debated whether to enact a two-phase approach to immigration reform in which the first component resolved the soon-to-be terminated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the second attempted a broader reform of the US immigration system.

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Trump holds bipartisan meeting on immigration reform
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), flanked by Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), rubs his eyes and listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US Senator Dianne Feinstein (C), D-California, speaks to US President Donald Trump during a meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate on immigration at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ), flanked by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks as President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaks during a meeting about immigration with U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican and Democrat members of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, center, listens while U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, right, speaks during a meeting with bipartisan members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Trump�indicated he's willing to split contentious immigration proposals into two stages, providing protections for young immigrants known as dreamers and increasing border security first, leaving tougher negotiations on comprehensive legislation for later. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as President Donald Trump conducts a meeting on immigration in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: Republican and Democrat members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and others join President Donald Trump for a meeting on immigration in the Cabinet Room at the White House January 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. In addition to seeking bipartisan solutions to immigration reform, Trump advocated for the reintroduction of earmarks as a way to break the legislative stalemate in Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Trump, at certain points in the meeting, appeared partial to the two-phase approach, but it's unclear what precisely he meant by the term "comprehensive immigration reform" and what such legislation would include.

"If you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat," Trump told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at one point. "You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform."

But Trump also devolved into a tangent at one point on the need to immediately address in any near-term DACA bill the issue of "chain migration," which refers to certain family-based immigration categories. Trump noted that the suspect in a recent terrorist attack in New York City had entered the US on a family-based immigration category.

"I really think that a lot of people are going to agree with us now on that subject," he said.

He also insisted on ending the diversity visa lottery program, which randomly selects roughly 50,000 immigration applicants annually from countries with a low rate of immigration to the US. Trump repeated a false claim that countries "give you people that they don't want, and then we take them out of the lottery" (countries don't submit lottery entrants; people apply on their own).

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed concerns that too many broader immigration issues would complicate the debate on DACA, and she proposed that Congress pass a "clean DACA bill" immediately but with an added commitment that lawmakers then enter a procedure for comprehensive immigration reform.

"I would like it," Trump said, though it wasn't clear what he understood a clean bill to entail. "I think a lot of people would like to see that." Republican lawmakers subsequently pointed out that a clean DACA bill was unlikely to include border-security measures.

Several Republicans pushed back at different points during the negotiations. Among them was Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who said no deal on DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, could be reached without attaching border-security measures to it.

 

'This should be a bipartisan bill'

The talks come amid growing pressure to enact a legislative solution for the young immigrants who have lived in the US illegally since they were children. They were temporarily shielded from deportation under the Obama-era DACA program, which Trump is terminating on March 5.

Trump, in the Tuesday meeting, emphasized the need for immigration reform to be bipartisan, saying the plight of Dreamers was a dilemma that concerned both Democrats and Republicans.

"I feel having the Democrats in with this is absolutely vital, because this should be a bipartisan bill," he said. "It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love. And we can do that.

"But it also has to be a bill where we can secure our border. Drugs are pouring into our country at a record pace — a lot of people are coming in that we can't have."

Trump had previously declared several times that any legislation on DACA would have to include funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border and major changes to legal immigration categories.

His insistence on the border wall in exchange for a deal on DACA was widely seen as a nonstarter. Democrats have been supportive of certain border-security measures but have stopped short of supporting a physical wall.

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