Trump’s radical push to scale back legal immigration is becoming a key flashpoint in Congress

President Donald Trump Mark Wilson/Getty Images

  • The White House rolled out the framework of President Donald Trump’s immigration plan late last week.
  • A significant part of the plan deals with proposed changes to legal immigration, such as family reunification and the diversity visa lottery.
  • The legal immigration changes could be a flashpoint in bipartisan negotiations over an immigration deal.

As Democrats and Republicans work toward an immigration deal on immigration before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires in March, President Donald Trump’s immigration framework may have thrown a wrench into the fight.

The White House’s immigration framework, released last Thursday, proposes significant changes to two legal immigration programs in addition to addressing the DACA program and Trump’s proposed border wall.

These two legal immigration provisions have become the biggest sticking points between the two parties – and could sink the possibility of a DACA deal, potentially leading to another government shutdown.

Cutting up to 44% of legal immigration

The framework proposes changes to family reunification rules, which the White House and conservatives refer to as “chain migration.” Under the current system, an immigrant can sponsor immediate relatives including parents, siblings, and married children. The White House proposal would limit sponsorship to spouses and minor children.

It also proposes to end the diversity visa lottery, which gives up to 50,000 people a year from countries with low immigration to the US access to a green card, provided the applicant meets education or work requirements.

According to the right-leaning Cato Institute, the White House plan would cut nearly 44% of all legal immigration compared to the current system and prevent nearly 22 million people from coming to the US over the next 50 years – or around a half million a year.

DACA deal threatened

DACA, the Obama-era program that protects from deportation nearly 700,000 unauthorised immigrants who arrived in the US as minors, is set to expire on March 5. The uncertainty for a massive number of long-time US residents has brought both parties in Congress to the negotiating table.

Trump’s immigration plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for both current DACA recipients and immigrants that qualify for the protections but are not currently enrolled. That would provide roughly 1.8 million people an avenue to legal status.

But the proposed legal immigration changes have made the plan a virtual nonstarter with the other side of the aisle.

“There is no public policy justification for cutting legal immigration in half. None,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz said.

At the same time, the plan earned plaudits from hardline conservatives.

“The president’s framework is generous and humane, while also being responsible. It protects those eligible for DACA, who are here through no fault of their own,” Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said in a statement following the release. “But it also will prevent us from ending up back here in five years by securing the border and putting an end to extended-family chain migration.”

Resolving these issues quickly will be imperative. While the DACA deadline is on March 5, Senate Democrats agreed to reopen the government until February 8 only if there was forward movement on an immigration deal.

If the negotiations appear to be going nowhere, the federal government could shut down once again.

Given the time constraints and real threat of a second shutdown, many moderates are attempting to chart a path forward that deals only with the DACA issue and border security.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who is helping lead a bipartisan coalition in the Senate to develop an immigration bill, said the focus of the current bill should be narrow.

“It seems to me that the two important things to tackle right now – and that our group will be making some recommendations to those who have legislative authority on this issue – is to protect the Dreamers and also to strengthen border security,” Collins said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “The other two issues are very important issues. They’re very complicated issues as well.”