Democrats, not Republicans, may face the toughest choice over what they are willing to accept as lawmakers begin weighing tradeoffs to pass "Dream Act" legislation protecting more than than 800,000 young illegal immigrants.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who said they secured a deal with President Trump over dinner last week, which the White House denied, have ruled out giving the GOP and the president the federal funding Trump seeks to build a southern border wall as part of a deal to secure the immigration bill protecting young illegals, known as Dreamers, from deportation.
But Trump said he will not sign off on a deal that excludes "massive border security," which many Democrats oppose because they don't want illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to face more aggressive deportation efforts by the federal government.
For Democrats, it will become a tradeoff between protecting Dreamers, who arrived in the U.S. as children of illegal immigrants, in exchange for provisions that could increase deportation of thousands of others who do not qualify for the program.
"We are going to be faced with a decision at some point," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., told the Washington Examiner. "We are talking about the humanity of 800,000 plus the two million who would age in, and a Dream Act that would protect them in perpetuity. And in exchange, some security demands that we have resisted and voted against historically. It's a bitter choice I hope we don't have to make. "
While Democrats have been most vocal about opposing a southern border wall, they even more intensely oppose the stepped up and more aggressive federal border security and immigration enforcement practices under Trump that they say have resulted in the arrest and deportation illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes other than crossing the border.
The deportations have broken up families and have sent people back to countries they haven't lived in for years, they argue.
"The number of people being deported continues to increase," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said.
Statistics provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicate deportations have dropped by double digits due to a backlog, but arrests have increased and most of those taken into custody are convicted criminals.
Key Democrats told the Washington Examiner they won't accept legislation that ramps up deportations and arrests of illegal immigrants.
"It's a very simple principle," Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said. "We are not going to protect Dreamers in exchange for them to be able to deport their parents."
Gallego is influential among House Democrats as a top leader in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which comprises 30 lawmakers. He's wary of a deal cut between Democratic leaders and Trump on Dreamers.
Nobody from the CHC was at the dinner table with Schumer, Pelosi, and Trump last week.
"This decision," Gallego warned, "is not going to be made by Nancy Pelosi. If it is not a good deal for the Hispanic community and the Dreamer community, we'll vote against it and will encourage the rest of the caucus to vote against it."
Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday that Trump signaled support for an eventual "earned path" to U.S. citizenship for those eligible for the program, which was first implemented under President Barack Obama as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Pelosi did not indicate what level of border security she would be willing to accept and did not even mention immigration enforcement. Instead, she indicated that in her view of the deal, "provisions relating to the border" would not be included at all in the legislation but would come "in an accompanying bill, or whatever, as we go forward."
Enter the Republican leaders, who run both the House and Senate floor and insisted on Thursday that, after speaking with Trump, there is no deal on Dream Act legislation and that the measure would have to include significant border security as well as immigration enforcement.
"You cannot fix DACA without fixing the root cause of the problem," Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. "We need border security and enforcement as part of any agreement. I think that is something Democrats are beginning to understand."
Trump will ultimately have to decide how much border security and immigration enforcement enhancements must be included in Dream Act legislation.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, said Trump's political future hinges on that decision because he campaigned so heavily on ending illegal immigration and on deporting people living in the U.S. illegally.
"There is only one thing that cracks President Trump's base," King said. "And that is if he cracks on immigration."