White House demands border wall funding, mass deportations in exchange for DREAMer protections

The Trump administration's new hard-line list includes draconian demands that seemingly contradict early agreement with Democratic leadership.

Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA) demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA) demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a crackdown on children fleeing Central America are among the demands laid out by President Donald Trump’s administration in exchange for protecting hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

According to a list released late Sunday night, the White House will ask Congress to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities in addition to funding Trump’s long-sought border wall and accelerating the deportations of children back to countries like Guatemala and Honduras — even if their safety is at risk from escalating violence. Family members of immigrants in the United States will also be barred from joining them. Other measures include hiring thousands of new immigration officials to oversee the proposed measures and appointing 370 additional immigration judges, along with 300 federal prosecutors.

Administration officials defended the demands, arguing the measures are essential to Trump’s long-term immigration vision.

“These priorities are essential to mitigate the legal and economic consequences of any grant of status to DACA recipients,” White House legislative director Marc Short told reporters. “They fulfill the President’s promise to advance immigration reform that puts the need of American workers first.”

But the demands threaten to unravel a precarious deal struck between Trump and Democratic leaders last month. Following Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative established by former President Barack Obama, lawmakers lobbied the president to reconsider. Approximately 690,000 undocumented immigrants are currently covered by the program, a temporary legal status that came at a steep price — recipients handed over a staggering amount of private data and information to the government in exchange for protection from deportation. Trump’s decision to phase out DACA has left the initiative’s recipients, also known as DREAMers, in a terrifying limbo, with many unsure of how their families and futures will be impacted.

In the weeks following Trump’s announcement, Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) appeared to strike a deal with the president, one that would protect DREAMers from deportation following a six month delay period laid out by the administration. According to initial reports, the agreement included an increase in funding for border security, without any additional funds for Trump’s border wall. But that relief was short-lived — administration officials pushed back almost immediately, arguing that no such deal had been made.

That back-and-forth left DREAMers in a state of anxiety, exacerbated by DACA’s looming deadline.

“I don’t speak for all the DREAMers but we’re just very anxious,” Fernanda Alonso, 18, told ThinkProgress at the time. “Now that they’ve rescinded it and it’s going to end… they have all our information and that’s always in the back of everyone’s heads, no matter what’s going to happen.”

For DACA recipients like Alonso, that anxiety is unlikely to come to an end any time soon. The White House’s demands touch on several points of heated disagreement, including Trump’s controversial border wall, which is projected to cost upwards of $21 billion and require large seizures of public land. Also contentious is the mass-deportation of young children fleeing Central America, particularly the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Thousands of children have fled the region in an effort to escape violence, a trend that grew dramatically during the Obama administration. Trump has cracked down on those refugees, allowing for their deportation to Mexico; under the newly-proposed measures, that approach would become even more aggressive.

Unsurprisingly, Democratic lawmakers swiftly rejected Trump’s Sunday night demands.

“The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” said Schumer and Pelosi in a statement shortly after the list’s circulation.

“We told the President at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures,” the letter continued. “But this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

Other Democrats were also swift to criticize the proposed measures.

“If you want a budget with Democratic votes, then it’s got to have some Democratic priorities,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who called Trump’s suggestions “an extension of the white supremacist agenda.”

“Passing a clean DREAM Act needs to be our immediate priority,” wrote Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Twitter, referencing a long-floated but never passed bill creating a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. “These principles are a non-starter.”

“Congress should reject this warped, anti-immigrant policy wish list,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who serves as vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “The White House wants to use dreamers as bargaining chips to achieve the administration’s deportation and detention goals.”

The demands laid out by the White House are only the latest in a series of aggressive measures taken to curb immigration in the United States. Since January, the president has introduced three different versions of his travel ban, which targets refugees along with citizens from a number of predominately Muslim-majority countries. In April, Trump announced an executive order cracking down on H-1B visas, held by highly-skilled immigrants, many of whom have undergone a long and strenuous process to work in the United States. Trump has also backed a bill aiming to cut immigration in half, in addition to stepping up deportations and raids targeting undocumented immigrants.