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Trump offers a ‘Dreamers’ deal for border-money proposal

President Trump unveiled the proposal in a 13-minute address from the White House.
President Trump unveiled the proposal in a 13-minute address from the White House.(Tom Brenner/New York Times)

WASHINGTON — President Trump, facing a growing public backlash over the partial government shutdown, shifted course Saturday and offered Democrats a deal: temporary protections for roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall.

But the proposal, which Trump unveiled in a 13-minute address from the White House, appeared dead on arrival in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected it even before Trump spoke, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, denounced it as “not a compromise but more hostage taking.”

With the shutdown entering its fifth week and polls showing a majority of the public blaming Trump, the president’s advisers have been searching for an exit strategy. Saturday’s speech grew out of talks Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, have had with lawmakers.

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The proposal was Trump’s first public offer to Democrats since the partial shutdown began nearly a month ago. It came after an acrimonious week of tit-for-tat politics, in which Pelosi told the president he could not deliver his State of the Union address in the Capitol until the shutdown was over, and the president retaliated by grounding a plane that was supposed to take her on a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan.

In casting the plan as a compromise, the president sought to shift pressure to Democrats — who have repeatedly refused to give Trump any money for his border wall. But Democrats continued to insist they will not negotiate with Trump over border security until the government reopens.

Trump has repeatedly sought to curb both legal and illegal immigration. He has revoked Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which offers crucial protections for immigrants from some Latin American and African countries. And he has moved to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that shielded young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

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In his latest offer, Trump offered to restore TPS protection for 300,000 people and allow 700,000 Dreamers to keep their protections for three more years, in exchange for $5.7 billion for a border barrier.

“That is our plan,” Trump said. “Border security, DACA, TPS. Many other things. Straightforward, fair, reasonable, and common sense with lots of compromise.” The proposal, Trump added, was intended to “break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward.”

The speech differed from Trump’s previous address about the immigration crisis, a prime-time broadcast that leaned heavily on dark messaging about the dangers of crime and illegal drugs flowing across the border. On Saturday, Trump seemed to soften his tone.

He paired the address with his first naturalization ceremony at the White House, a move intended to underscore the idea that he supports legal immigration. And instead of insisting on the “big beautiful wall,” Trump took care to use the word “barrier” — and seemed to pare back his vision for it.

Calling it “a powerful and beautifully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border,” Trump said: “This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water.”

Some aspects of Trump’s plan seemed lifted straight from Pelosi’s talking points on border security. The president proposed $800 million for humanitarian assistance, $805 million for drug detection technology, funding for 2,750 more border agents and law enforcement officials, and 75 new immigration judge teams.

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In her talking points, Pelosi said Democrats favored “new drug, weapons, and contraband scanning technology at official ports of entry,” and “filling the more than 3,000 vacancies for customs officers.” She intends to bring up legislation in the coming days that includes an additional $1 billion for border security, including $563 million for 75 new immigration judges and support staff.

Even so, Democrats roundly criticized the president’s plan, and were incensed Trump extended protections to Dreamers and TPS recipients that he himself revoked.

“I think it’s simply more fake promises raising false hopes,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said. “It will fool few Americans because it’s neither serious nor credible as a real remedy for Dreamers.”

Some on the right also pushed back, describing the proposal as amnesty.

“Amnesty encourages further illegal immigration, incentivizes the tragedy of human trafficking, and undermines our citizens’ confidence in the rule of law,” said James Carafano, a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation who worked on Trump’s transition.

Pence, briefing reporters after Trump’s remarks, said the speech showed the administration had listened to lawmakers, including rank-and-file Democrats who made it clear that protections for DACA and TPS recipients be included in any deal.

Pence pushed back forcefully against immigration hawks.

“This is not amnesty,” Pence said. “There is no pathway to citizenship in this proposal.”

But that was one reason many Democrats considered it unacceptable. Democrats are also leery because they have been down this road with the president before. Last year, Trump and Schumer negotiated $25 billion in wall money for a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers. But that deal fell apart when hard-line White House advisers persuaded the president to back away

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Now it will be up to majority leader Mitch McConnell to bring this proposal before the Senate. The president’s proposal, McConnell said, “strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”

The stalemate is creating increasing nervousness on Capitol Hill, especially among Republicans seeking reelection in Democratic-leaning states. Senator Susan Collins of Maine is among a handful of Republicans who have broken with the president and called for the government to reopen without a border security deal.

On Saturday, Collins said she hoped Trump’s offer would “lead to constructive debate that will end this impasse.”