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Will Trump’s immigration wishlist derail the DACA deal?

October 9, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Trump stunned Republicans when he reached a deal with Democratic leaders to protect DACA recipients known as "dreamers." But that agreement may be in jeopardy now that the White House has issued its demands, including the building of a controversial border wall. John Yang reports then Lisa Desjardins sits down with Judy Woodruff for a closer look at the road ahead on immigration reform.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The partisan divide over immigration recently had appeared to narrow, after President Trump stunned Republicans by reaching a deal with Democratic leaders to protect so-called dreamers last month.

But that agreement may be in jeopardy now that the White House has spelled out its demands.

John Yang begins our coverage.

JOHN YANG: At the time, it was hailed as a triumph of bipartisanship.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: It was a very, very positive step for the president to commit to DACA protections without insisting on the inclusion of or even a debate about the border wall.

JOHN YANG: Over Chinese food at the White House last month, President Trump and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi reached what both sides said was the framework for a possible deal, protect young people illegally brought to the United States as children, the so-called dreamers, in exchange for a package of border security measures.

But the future of efforts to preserve President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is uncertain after the administration unveiled a long list of hard-line immigration demands.

At the top of the list? The signature campaign promise that is a nonstarter for Democrats and some border state Republicans.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A Trump administration will also secure and defend the borders of the United States. And, yes, we will build a great, great wall.

JOHN YANG: Among the other demands, strengthening enforcement of immigration laws, barring people from bring extended families to the United States, and basing permanent residence status on immigrants’ skills.

Whether the items are absolute requirements or an opening bargaining position, they would represent a major tightening of immigration laws. The list drew an immediate rebuke from Schumer and Pelosi.

In a joint statement, they said: “If the president was serious about protecting the dreamers, his staff has not made a good effort to do so.”

Both Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders are under growing pressure over immigration from their respective bases. Last month, Congressman Steve King of Iowa, one of the Republicans’ biggest immigration hawks, slammed talk of a bipartisan deal that wouldn’t include a border wall.

“If true,” he said, “the Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

At a Pelosi town hall meeting in San Francisco last month, a group of young immigrants protested any deal that would link protecting dreamers with increased border security.

Before the administration’s announcement, there had been signs of possible compromise.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley at a hearing last week.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee: Any potential deal on DACA has to include robust border security, and, by that, I don’t mean a wall. Of course, tactical infrastructure like fencing is a part of the answer, but border security is more than that.

JOHN YANG: Now the president’s immigration wish list lies in Congress’ hands, with five months to go before DACA recipients begin losing their protections.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Here to break down the road ahead for immigration reform on Capitol Hill is our own Lisa Desjardins.

So, Lisa, you spent today talking to your sources in Congress. How are they interpreting this?

LISA DESJARDINS: Interestingly enough, Judy, there are members of both parties who told me the same thing today. They interpret what the president said last night as the opposite of what they heard from him last month.

So, then, what do you do? I heard from Republicans who are more optimistic, those who are trying to be positive. They still want to repair this DACA situation. They say one thing to me. They said, they do think this is a negotiating position only. They think this might be an attempt by the president and move the debate to the right. They felt like Democrats might have had an upper hand here.

There were others who said: We think this president in the end will sign anything we can pass.

As for Democrats, they said they’re taking it very seriously. They see this as undermining their deal that they had with him last month.

And one more point, Judy. One member of Congress said he is just frustrated because of how this happened and worries that this undermines the future of other things, like tax reform, if the president is going to drop demands like this so suddenly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given all that, what are the prospects that these principles that the president’s laid out could actually become law?

LISA DESJARDINS: At this moment, there’s no chance that full funding of the border wall would pass in this Congress.

Now, we know that, right now, there’s not a single Republican who represents the border who supports full funding. There are those in Congress that you heard Senator Grassley refer to that would fund partial building of the wall.

But for the most part, the talk about border security is about broader infrastructure and technology and more Border Patrol agents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the other thing we’re hearing, Lisa, from the president in all of this is he not just wants to go after DACA and illegal or undocumented immigrants, but he’s talking about going after legal immigration. What’s the reaction there?

LISA DESJARDINS: To me, that was such an important part of what we saw last night. This is a debate over the identity of America. What should our identity be going forward?

Here, the president was taking a very firm side with some, like his adviser Stephen Miller, who believe that we should limit legal immigration very seriously. Now, in Congress, that is not the majority opinion right now.

However, talking to sources today, they feel like there is momentum in that direction. And the president might be feeling that. It is something to watch very carefully over the next few months to see if that happens.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And your sources are saying that’s — why do they think that’s the case?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think because of this move from the right, that there’s an outcry from the right.

And we also have a moment right now in American history, Judy, where we’re at near historic highs for the percentage of people in this country who are first-time immigrants as a part of our population.

And we see this kind of backlash against immigration, conversations about how high it should be, at times like this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, reporting from Congress, thank you very much.

LISA DESJARDINS: Pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

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