President Trump will propose to Congress an immigration reform agenda focused on border security, interior enforcement, and the creation of a merit-based visa system, a senior White House official told reporters Sunday evening.
In response to speaking with interagencies and rank-and-file lawmakers, the administration compiled a list of to-do items as Congress mulls over how to respond to the winding down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The White House official made no mention of DACA, former President Barack Obama's 2012 executive action, but said the three items on the administration's proposal represent the top line findings of what various federal departments said was necessary to reform. The administration is expected to share its plan with Congress this week.
"Rather than asking what policies are supported by special interests, we asked America's law enforcement professionals to identify reforms that are vital to protect the national interest," Trump said in a letter. "In response, they identified dangerous loopholes, outdated laws, and easily exploited vulnerabilities in our immigration system – current policies that are harming our country and our communities."
Keeping with Trump's campaign promise to secure the U.S.-Mexico southwestern border, the administration will recommend the "full funding" of the wall, but did not disclose the estimated cost of such an undertaking.
The majority of border security changes will be directed at policies that relate to people who arrive at or are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection officers or Border Patrol agents while attempting to enter the U.S.
"Border security has changed a lot since the 1990s," the White House official said. "A lot of illegal immigrants who have learned how to game the system and smugglers who have learrned to game the system [have been able to] escape any kind of removal."
The Trump administration will propose reforming laws regarding unaccompanied minor children, or UACs, so that they may be "expeditiously returned to their countries." The effect of doing so will help lift the burden on the backlog of asylum requests, which currently has more than 500,000 people waiting to have their cases heard by a judge.
An additional 370 immigration judges, 1,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys, and 300 federal prosecutors will also be requested as a means of clearing the backlogs.
Trump also wants harsher penalties for people who attempt to re-enter the U.S. after being deported and will ask for Kate's Law to be included in any congressional reforms to immigration policy. The bill would increase the penalties for illegal immigrants who are caught trying to return to the U.S. after being deported.
The second component to the administration's immigration reforms proposal is enhanced interior enforcement.
The White House official who spoke with reporters said the biggest problem facing ICE officers who focus on this aspect of immigration is simply a "lack of resources and the lack of authorities to enforce interior immigration."
The president wants 10,000 officers hired to supplement the 6,000 officers in ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations agency, which he first called for in his Jan. 25 executive order.
The move would focus primarily on visa overstayers, which make up the largest number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., not southern border trespassers.
Despite being dealt a setback by a federal judge in Illinois last month, the administration will ask Congress to limit grants for sanctuary cities that do not comply with federal detainer requests and create incentives for cities and states that do.
Trump will also ask for the legal immigration system to be changed into a merit-based one that ends chain migration.
In August, Trump endorsed the revised Raise Act. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia rolled out the update and touted it as a way to do away with a system that often benefits family members of current U.S. residents and replace it with one that weighs the skills sets of potential candidates and favors those who meet industry needs.
The RAISE Act marks a new approach to immigration reform than Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida attempted in 2013 with the "Gang of Eight" bill. It is the most significant type of green card reform since the GOP-majority Congress unsuccessfully tried to cut immigration numbers with a provision in 1996.
Family immigration categories would be narrowed to no longer include extended family members and adult children of U.S. citizens. However, citizens are able to apply for renewable, temporary visas for elderly parents.
If passed, the 1 million legal immigrants who enter the U.S. annually would drop to somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 people by 2027, putting it in line with historic norms.
E-Verify, which gives employers a way to go online and check a job applicant's legal ability to work in the U.S., will also be required on a nationwide basis and government contactors who do not comply will see their contracts canceled.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte praised the proposal Sunday evening.
"The Trump administration has put forth a serious proposal to address the enforcement of our immigration laws and border security. Many of these policies have been included in legislation passed by the House Judiciary Committee," Goodlatte said in a statement.
"As a member of the Speaker's working group on immigration, we will take time to review the administration's priorities and consider their implications for our immigration system and the rule of law. One thing is clear, however: we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place."
While campaigning last year, Trump promised to "immediately terminate" the 2012 policy that permitted illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors to receive a two-year period of deferred action and work permit. Recipients' approval would last two years and could be renewed if the individual remained in good legal standing.
As a candidate, Trump blasted the "amnesty" program that Obama's second term Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson imposed by memo because Congress could not pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Conservatives have called DACA "amnesty" because it forgives the removes the conseuquences from an illegal action taken by the parents of the recepients.
Shortly after his inauguration, Trump appeared to be wavering in his commitment to rescinding DACA. He told one news outlet recipients "shouldn't be worried" because "we're going to take care of everybody."
Then in April, Trump reiterated that compassionate view when he said "we need special heart" to "understand the other side of that equation" as it relates to DACA recipients.
Trump had said he would rescind DACA by March, and encouraged Congress to pass legislation protecting immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Three bills relating to DACA have been introduced in recent months, including the Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; the Dream Act by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,; and the Succeed Act by GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. The White House has not endorsed any of the bills.
Trump mentioned the RAISE Act during discussions with Republicans and Democrats two weeks ago. Democrats indicated they would be able to work out a deal with Trump that creates a legislative version of DACA, in return for tougher border security.
But the deal as described by Democrats mostly favored their position: they said they would insist on a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and said the border measure they could support is essentially language calling on the government to create a border enforcement plan.
House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul has said the government is in the best position to achieve progress on border reforms and has a plan that just needs to be implemented.