WASHINGTON — President Trump proposed legislation on Thursday that would provide a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million young, unauthorized immigrants in exchange for an end to decades of family-based migration policies, a costly border wall, and a vast crackdown on other immigrants already living in the country illegally.
Describing the plan as “extremely generous” but a take-it-or-leave-it proposal by the president, White House officials said they hoped it would be embraced by conservatives and centrists in Congress as the first step in an even broader effort to fix the nation’s immigration system.
But the plan — drafted by Stephen Miller, the president’s hard-line domestic policy adviser, and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff — was immediately rejected by Democrats, immigration advocates, and some Republicans, with some describing it as nothing but an attempt to rid the country of immigrants and shut the nation’s borders.
Republican and Democratic senators are working on a narrower immigration plan of their own, hoping that if it can pass the Senate with a strong bipartisan majority, it would put pressure on the House to pick up and pass the legislation and perhaps leave Trump with the take-it-or-leave-it decision. Just over two weeks ago, in a televised negotiating session at the White House, Trump said he would sign anything that got to him.
Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona — Republicans who have in the past fought against hard-line immigration policies — said the Senate was unlikely to simply accept the president’s legislation.
“We’re getting started without them,” Flake said. Graham said bluntly, “This is a negotiation.”
Members of both parties said that legislation would have a better chance of passing if it focused on legal status for DACA recipients without a dramatic crackdown on unauthorized immigrants or new restrictions on legal immigration for extended family members.
“If you start putting in all of these highly charged toxic issues, it’s just not going to work,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida.
Anti-immigration activists also assailed the plan, though for the opposite reason. Breitbart News greeted word of the president’s plan with the headline “Amnesty Don Suggests Citizenship for Illegal Aliens.”
Under Trump’s plan, described to reporters by senior White House officials, young immigrants who were brought into the United States illegally as children would be granted legal status, would be allowed to work, and could become citizens over a 10- to 12-year period if they remained out of trouble with the law.
In exchange, Congress would have to create a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a southern border wall, dramatically increase immigration arrests, speed up deportations, crack down on people who overstay their visas, prevent citizens from bringing their parents to the United States, and end a State Department program designed to encourage migration from underrepresented countries.
White House officials said that the list of enhanced security measures — which have been on anti-immigration wish lists for decades — were nonnegotiable. They warned that if no deal is reached, DACA recipients will face deportation when the program expires on March 5.
One senior official said the young immigrants would not be targeted, but are “illegal immigrants” who would be processed for deportation if they came into contact with immigration officers.
Eddie Vale, a Democratic consultant working with a coalition of immigration groups, described the president’s proposal as an effort to sabotage bipartisan talks and win passage of “a white supremacist wish list.”
‘If you start putting in all of these highly charged toxic issues, it’s just not going to work.’
Officials said the president’s decision to formally present a plan to Congress was a direct response to members of Congress, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who had complained that they did not know where the president stood in the immigration debate.
“We’re basically signaling that this is the bill the president can sign,” one senior official said during the briefing.
Officials said they expected McConnell to bring the president’s plan to the Senate floor for a vote during the week of Feb. 5, just days before the Feb. 8 expiration of a short-term government spending plan.
The president’s legislative proposal is designed to exert maximum pressure on Democrats, who are desperate to protect the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, but who fiercely oppose the policies embraced by hard-liners.
The strategy would work only if the Senate fails to reach a broad bipartisan accord on an alternative: legislation that would protect the Dreamers and bolster border security, but reject the most draconian aspects of the White House’s proposal.
Trump hinted at the proposal to come on Wednesday evening in impromptu comments suggesting that he was open to allowing some of the young immigrants to become citizens in 10 to 12 years. But his comments were quickly followed on Thursday morning by a White House e-mail warning of a flood of immigrants into the country and demanding an end to policies that allow families to sponsor the immigration of their immediate relatives.
And even as Trump was offering reassuring words to the Dreamers — “tell them not to worry,” he told reporters Wednesday evening — senior White House officials were emphasizing the more hard-line features of their forthcoming immigration proposal.