Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador maintained faith Thursday that his new immigration enforcement plan won’t be supplanted by a bipartisan Senate proposal.
Other immigration hardliners unwilling to compromise on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program told McClatchy that they see little they can do to stop what appears to be a looming deal between Republicans, Democrats and the White House.
But even the idea of a deal became muddied Thursday. Senators briefing President Donald Trump on their bipartisan plan reportedly were taken aback when he questioned why the U.S. should permit more immigrants from “shithole countries.” The comments came after senators discussed revamping rules affecting entrants from Africa and Haiti, people briefed on the meeting told The Washington Post, New York Times and Associated Press. The White House did not deny the comment Thursday; Trump Friday morning tweeted his statements during the talk were “tough, but this was not the language used.”
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Trump on Wednesday released a statement welcoming the bill co-written by Labrador: “The president looks forward to advancing legislation that secures the border, ends chain migration, cancels the visa lottery, and addresses the status of the DACA population in a responsible fashion.”
This week has been a flurry of immigration control proposals as lawmakers come up against a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Federal agencies will run out of money if lawmakers don’t pass legislation extending their financing by Jan. 19. Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes — which Republicans will need to push that legislation through Congress — unless an immigration accord is reached.
On Wednesday, Labrador and three House Republicans introduced the bill they have been crafting over the past few weeks: the Securing America’s Future Act. That bill, Labrador told the Statesman, “is a compromise bill” that he believes is the only current proposal that can pass the House.
The bill would give the nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. under the DACA program — including more than 3,000 in Idaho — a 3-year, renewable legal status. Trump last year ended the Obama-era program for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and are here illegally, but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.
“The bill that we introduced is a bill that deals with border security and interior security. It builds the fence, it ends chain migration and it ends the visa lottery,” Labrador told the Statesman on Thursday. “Those are the things we need to do to prevent illegal immigration into the United States from continuing to increase. And in exchange for that, we are willing to do something for the people who are here currently under the deferred adjudication program.”
Six senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been meeting for months to find a way to revive DACA protections.
They sought White House approval, but the effort seemed to take a sour turn with Trump’s remark. Durbin was explaining that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, sources said, though there could be some other way for them to apply. Durbin said people would be allowed to stay in the U.S. who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Trump specifically questioned why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. He also mentioned Africa and asked why more people from “shithole countries” should be allowed into the U.S., the sources said.
While rebutting that report Friday, Trump also confirmed he thought the senators’ plan was a “big step backwards.” Durbin, meanwhile, told reporters the accounts of the meeting were accurate and that the president used “hate-filled, vile and racist” language, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said the real work for a bipartisan immigration deal will be achieved by a group of four leading lawmakers — the No. 2 Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, who met for the first time this week.
“There has not been a deal reached yet,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday. But she noted, “We haven’t quite gotten there, but we feel like we’re close.”
Meanwhile, the wing of conservatives urging no DACA compromise watched in horror on Tuesday as Trump met with members of Congress from both parties to negotiate a deal.
“It looks to me like it’s shaping up to be a disaster, a calamity that the Democrats have dreamed of and engineered,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, long one of the GOP’s most outspoken hardliners.
Labrador, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, did not appear to be among those worried. Asked Thursday whether he felt that he still had a seat at the negotiations, Labrador replied, “Absolutely.”
The Senate group may be jockeying for White House support, he said, but that won’t help them win the House.
“The Senate needs to understand that any bill that is soft on enforcement and grants legal status to people who are here in the United States illegally is never going to pass the House of Representatives,” Labrador said. “... It is almost astonishing to me that the same group of people that tried to pass a Senate bill under President Obama are now pushing for the same kind of response to the immigration crisis we have in the United States.”
Labrador was confident the White House will not waver in its position on immigration.
“President Trump understands this is the issue that elected him,” he said. “His base will forgive a lot of things, but they will not forgive a betrayal on immigration.”
And combined, he believes that gives his bill an opportunity.
“It is the only bill that is going to keep the promises the president made to the American people,” Labrador said. “It is the only bill that will be accepted by the people who elected President Trump. It is the only bill the president has given his approval of.”
Andrea Drusch of McClatchy’s D.C. Bureau contributed.