Amid Furor Over Racist Tweets, White House Announces Immigration Bill

Jul 16, 2019
Originally published on July 16, 2019 4:34 pm

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

The White House announced Tuesday that it has quietly drafted a 620-page immigration bill and has lined up 10 Republican senators to co-sponsor the measure should it be introduced, according to a senior administration official involved in the process.

This builds on a blueprint that President Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner announced in May and that addressed border security and legal immigration but didn't deal with the millions of people currently in the country illegally, including young people known as Dreamers.

"In Washington, I find a lot of people are very quick to say what they are against," Kushner said during a Cabinet meeting at which he shared details of the plan. "But it's very important for us to articulate as an administration what we're for, but to do it in detail. And we're not afraid to put out details because we think that this proposal is a very very good proposal that really is great for America."

The push for a new immigration bill comes just days after Trump ignited a furious controversy by tweeting that four non-white members of Congress should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." All four members are American citizens, and three of the four were born in the United States.

When the immigration blueprint was first announced, it was greeted with mixed reviews and a heavy dose of skepticism about its political prospects. After that initial burst of energy, Congress seemed to ignore it and the White House stopped talking about it.

But Kushner said it remained a top priority.

"The Trump administration, despite what some people say, believes in safe, legal immigration and is against illegal and random migration," he said.

During the Cabinet meeting, Trump threw his support behind the Kushner-led plan.

He called it "compassionate" and "the best of everything."

"Our country really has a tremendous immigration gap," Trump said, calling the current system a "maze of complexity."

This bill, which hasn't been introduced and may not be, was drafted in consultation with about 25 Republican Senate offices and a handful of House Republicans, the official said.

The senior administration official said the process included adding items, taking others out and tightening language.

"Now we are at a place where we feel like the bill is substantially complete," the official said.

It's not clear how having legislative language will get this proposal any closer to becoming law, but the senior administration official said officials had planned to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday. That meeting has been postponed.

McConnell has said that any major immigration effort needs to be bipartisan, but Democrats are unlikely to agree to sweeping border security measures without some kind of protections for the so-called Dreamers, brought to the country illegally as children, or the larger 11 million people in the country illegally.

Distrust between the White House and Democrats is at perhaps its highest point. This distrust comes as the administration is being criticized for its handling of detained migrant children, its touting of planned immigration sweeps and its defense of the president's racist comments about several progressive lawmakers.

But getting Democratic support is not necessarily the president's objective. White House officials recognize the challenges gaining support from Democrats, but a senior administration official said part of the goal is unifying key factions of the GOP about a path forward.

Supporters say it also should give Republicans something to rally around for the 2020 elections. And Trump said as much in the Cabinet meeting, saying that "if it doesn't get passed, it's a campaign issue."

The senior administration official touted support its received from conservative groups and pundits, including Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. He bragged that they were able to work with twenty-five Senate offices and a dozen House offices without any any leaks.

"While this plan doesn't make every needed change or fulfill every campaign promise, it offers the country a viable path forward in the face of Democrat immigration extremism," said RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement.

The plan includes an updated legal immigration system that replaces allowing entry to low-skilled workers with a merit-based system that prioritizes immigrants with special skills. It would also strengthen border security, increase interior enforcement and tighten asylum procedures.

The proposal would also include installing a nationwide federal employment verification program, known as E-Verify, federal program to check whether new employees were legally allowed to work. Conservative groups have long pushed for the program, but big business has lobbied against it. But that may be changing.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied Congress against a national E-Verify mandate during the Bush and Obama administrations, has since welcomed the idea as long as it includes an improved guest worker proposal. The National Association of Manufacturers also supports mandatory employment verification system like E-Verify.

When asked about the political realities of a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, a fast-approaching August recess, budget fights and an election year on the horizon, the official returned to what has been a common posture for the Trump White House.

"People in Washington think very conventionally all the time, and immigration is something that has been troubling people for 25 years. Everyone can say what they're against, but nobody can say what they're for," the official said.

The goal for this document, the official argued, was "seeing if we can unify the Republicans around this proposal."

The official readily admitted that the White House could put this out and nothing will happen at all. And "this will be something that we talk about during the election, but at least the president will be on record saying, 'This is what I am for' in a very detailed capacity."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.