by Laura Litvan
President Donald Trump is emphasizing his vow to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and additional conditions for an immigration deal, as congressional leaders and White House officials plan a meeting Wednesday that will set terms for a coming debate on the issue.
GOP lawmakers have largely avoided talking about the border wall, a central Trump campaign promise, in negotiations with Democrats on legislation to provide protection against deportation for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants while also bolstering border security and interior enforcement of immigration laws.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, didn’t mention a wall during an appearance on Fox News Tuesday, saying only that “there is an agreement that can be reached,” but “it’s got to start with border security.”
The president said in September that he would end the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in early March. Trump has expanded his demands for what he wants in exchange for a DACA accord: eliminating family immigration preferences and ending a diversity lottery program that provides visas to people in countries with low rates of migration to the U.S.
Trump punctuated the holidays with a series of tweets renewing demands that an immigration measure include a border wall, which is strongly opposed by Democrats and many Republicans in Congress. He’s also accusing Democrats of playing politics in the debate.
“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc.,” Trump said in a tweet Friday from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
He wrote on Tuesday, "Democrats are doing nothing for DACA - just interested in politics."
Immigration is one of the top issues that Congress pushed into 2018 as Republicans who control the Senate and House focused instead on passing a massive $1.5 trillion tax-cut measure. Democrats are insisting that the next federal spending bill include protection for the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The White House meeting Wednesday will include White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative liaison Marc Short.
Republican lawmakers are pushing for a mandatory “E-Verify” system for employers to ensure their workers are documented and to include deep cuts to legal immigration.
Some of the young immigrants have expulsion protections that expire before March, with more than 7,900 already losing DACA protections since Trump acted in September, according to the Center for American Progress in Washington.
Bipartisan talks in the Senate for an immigration compromise could yield legislation addressing needs of the immigrants as early as next month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has pledged to put such a plan on the Senate floor this month if it has broad support in both parties.
Even if senators can reach accord, there will be risks in the House, where more Republicans are balking at the deportation protections. The last effort to enact a comprehensive immigration overhaul failed in 2013, when the Senate -- then controlled by Democrats -- voted to create a path to legal status for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and to spend $46 billion to secure the U.S.-Mexican border. The Republican-dominated House didn’t take up the bill, as most in the party opposed legal status.
--With assistance from Margaret Talev.
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