President Trump may eventually be lauded for placing the fate of so-called Dreamers in the hands of Congress, a decision he made last week that drew immediate criticism from lawmakers on both sides but has since prompted serious discussions on Capitol Hill of a bipartisan immigration bill.
Ten months after winning the presidency on a platform that featured promises to undo Barack Obama's executive amnesties and oversee stricter enforcement of immigration laws, Trump announced last week that his administration would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program next March. The Obama-era directive has shielded some 800,000 young illegal immigrants from deportation since its inception in 2012.
Lost in the pool of headlines about Dreamers who could be separated from their families or detained by immigration authorities was a significant moment where Democrats and Republicans began to entertain the idea of collaborating on broad-based immigration reform, much like the Gang of Eight did in 2013.
"If common sense says it, these young people who came here through no fault of their own should be part of the discussion in an overall immigration reform project," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in the wake of Trump's decision on DACA.
Faced with the president's desire to phase the program out completely by March 5 of next year, Congress has six months to find a legislative solution that grants permanent legal status to DACA beneficiaries or allows their current protections to expire. The White House has already expressed an interest in signing onto legislation that re-establishes legal protections for undocumented youth so long as it includes items that would tighten work visa requirements, boost border security or ensure a more effective employee verification system.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Wednesday the Trump administration fully intends to "lay out its principles in a broad sense on what we want to see" in an immigration bill.
"The president has also made clear that he does believe that we need to ensure border security," Short told reporters aboard Air Force One.
A Senate Democratic aide told the Washington Examiner there is "no chance" Democrats will back a bill that includes money for a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But an employer verification mandate or funding to improve border enforcement operations or structures – excluding Trump's promised wall – remain on the table, the aide said.
"We backed the Gang of Eight, and if you go back and look at that it included E-Verify, it gave billions to DHS to improve border security, and it included visa caps," the aide said. "Those compromises will remain on the table if Republicans can commit to protecting Dreamers, who are just as American as the rest of us."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has argued for a standalone vote on the DREAM Act, a bill that would prevent undocumented youth from becoming subject to removal. But the top Democrat said Wednesday his party is "prepared to attach [the DREAM Act] to other items this fall until it passes."
Several Republican lawmakers have dismissed the prospect of passing legislation that protects Dreamers without securing anything in exchange.
"From my standpoint, you need to end the incentive for illegal immigration," said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. "So, we need to look at what we need to do for the Dreamers but also what we need to do to secure the border and end those incentives."
According to the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, the opportunity to strike a meaningful deal on immigration has given Congress a unique opportunity to regain the public's confidence in the legislative branch.
"I think we're the most generous country in the world when it comes to legal immigration. We naturalize almost 1 million people a year," Cornyn said. "But I think people have come to realize that without border security and enforcement, that they can't trust their own government."