White House to press tough immigration laws, border wall in Congress’s lame duck session

The White House is racing to finish a sweeping new immigration plan focused on enforcement that could be introduced before Democrats take control of the House. It would include funding for the border wall, restrictions on asylum and cuts to legal immigration, according to four people familiar with the plans.

But the plan is already receiving pushback from factions within the West Wing who are urging the president to agree to a more moderate plan that would limit cuts to legal immigration and protect young immigrants who came to the United States as children.

“There is a schism within the White House over this issue,” said Jessica Vaughn, a former State Department foreign service officer and director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “There are some folks who think it’s important to push those provisions now under the guise of merit-based immigration reform. And others who are opposed to that. They want the emphasis to be on enforcement.”

This latest enforcement proposal would partially serve as a permanent legislative change to measures Trump took Thursday to confront the caravan of migrants nearing the United States by invoking national security powers used to implement last year’s “travel ban” to deny asylum to migrants who enter the country illegally.

The two plans are setting up a new battle within the Republican Party between immigration hardliners, led by White House adviser Stephen Miller, who wants to rewrite the U.S. legal immigration system, and more centrist Republicans and business leaders who want to protect the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, and provide greater access to foreign workers.

Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday. That means Trump will be working with a divided Congress come January so this is seen as a last-ditch effort to craft a new immigration package more to his and other Republicans liking. But any measure will be difficult to pass, especially one focused on enforcement, when Congress is also trying to avoid a government shutdown over changes in a spending bill and trying to push through other difficult measures such as a sweeping farm bill.

“I think the lame duck session of Congress is a great opportunity to pass immigration reform so I may still have some important work to do when I get back,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, minutes after he conceded his re-election bid on Tuesday. “I sure hope we have a chance. This would be the best time to do it especially because we can probably expect more gridlock or even worse gridlock in the next Congress.”

Congress will be in session for 12 work days between now and its holiday break — the so-called lame duck session —and a new Congress is sworn in in January. In that time, it has to pass a spending bill before Dec. 7 or the government will have to shut down with no funding.

Earler this year, Trump warned that a “good shutdown” may be necessary to force Democrats to agree to spend more than $20 billion on a border wall. But he appeared to back away from those threats this week after seeing the election results.

Trump told a news conference Wednesday he’s “not necessarily” committed to a shutdown and indicated Democrats may be willing to work with him.

“I speak to Democrats all the time and they agree that a wall is necessary,” Trump said. “We want to build the whole wall at one time, not in chunks.”

Democrats are unlikely to be in a negotiating mood during the lame-duck session, given their pick up of 30 seats, so far, in Tuesday’s midterms.

Trump is seeking to decrease numbers and address a group of thousands of migrants traveling toward the U.S. border. He used the group as a final rallying cry as the midterm campaigning wound down, saying the group included criminals who made up an “invasion” of the U.S. He deployed military troops to the border.

He desperately wants to gain funding for his wall in order to fulfill his signature campaign promise as he looks toward 2020.

The White House and Congress have repeatedly tried and failed to craft a successful plan that would fund the wall and provide protections for so-called Dreamers who have been able to work and remain in the United States under the original Deferred Action for Childhoold Arrivals law.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Trump cannot immediately end the DACA program, which he tried to do last year after several states threatened to sue to force an end to it.

President Trump has also pushed a wall proposal that would fund the wall in exchange for legal status immediately — and later citizenship to — 1.8 million Dreamers.

The new proposals under discussion would take aspects of earlier proposals such as one by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would step up enforcement. But there are many unresolved questions about the White House’s proposals, including the extent of changes to legal immigration and a proposed merit-based immigration system that would reduce focus on family connections and limit new immigrants from entering the country based on their job skills.

The idea that a similar proposal would pass now has raised concerns within the Republican Party about whether Trump is losing one of his best opportunities to use what remaining leverage he has to gain the controversial border wall funding.

Leaders such as outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have urged the president to compromise and include protections for DACA recipients.

And those in the White House pushing for a more moderate proposal have warned the president that any proposal still needs some Democratic support and failing to find a deal now could mean starting campaign season with no border wall and young Dreamers possibly being deported.

A senior Republican congressional aide said while the White House is pushing this measure, the more likely scenario is it fails again and Congress passes another continuing resolution without addressing the border wall with some kind of promise to take up the matter in the spring.

“It’s more optics and positioning than anything else,” said a senior Republican congressional aide familiar with the debate “There will be a lot of posturing, we’ll get right up to the limit, the House will pass something that’s kind of a last hurrah, it will go nowhere in the Senate.”

Bryan Lowry and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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