The Trump administration’s controversial immigration proposal—leaked to the press on Thursday—was officially unveiled Monday, and before the plan had even hit inboxes across D.C., the plan had come under attack from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and both conservative groups that favor strict immigration controls and those that advocate for immigrants’ rights.
“Leaders on both sides of the aisle continue to tell me that we all agree on the problem. We all want to secure our borders. We all want to help immigrants brought to the U.S. as children,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a speech Monday at a Washington think tank. “The devil is in the details.”
The disagreements dividing Congress and the country, however, go beyond the details. Immigration hardliners argue that granting a decade-long path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “amnesty,” while progressives say Trump’s call for ending most family-based immigration is “hateful” and a political non-starter.
House Republicans have largely stood behind President Trump for the past year, holding back their criticism. But ire at the new immigration plan—especially its path to citizenship for both DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrants who never applied for the program’s protections—has prompted GOP lawmakers to break with their party’s leader.
On Monday, Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) released a statement blasting the “White House amnesty plan.”
“It does not represent the promises President Trump made to the American people,” Brat wrote. “Giving amnesty beyond DACA recipients opens us up to fraud and corruption.”
Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), has alluded to “concerns” he has with the President’s plan, and says he prefers a Republican-only alternative pushed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) or “something even stronger.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) noted in a radio interview Thursday that he views granting DACA recipients a “special path to citizenship” as “the wrong policy for the United States,” and prefers a plan that offers them “a three-year visa that can be renewed indefinitely.”
As House conservatives keep an eye on ongoing bipartisan negotiations in the Senate and grapple with the President’s proposal, immigration restrictionist groups who threw their support behind Trump to get him elected are in the midst of a primal scream.
“This is a preemptive surrender,” complained Mark Krikorian, the leader of the restrictionist think tank Center for Immigration Studies, in a recent op-ed. “If you’re going to amnesty illegal aliens, just rip off the band-aid and get it over with.” Krikorian accused Trump of “botching the DACA issue” and warned that the move would “fatally demoralize Republican voters in November.” He then called on his Twitter followers to set Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” red caps on fire.
Democrats, meanwhile, are no happier with the White House outline.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the plan “an act of staggering cowardice which attempts to hold the DREAMers hostage to a hateful anti-immigrant scheme.”
“The DREAMers will not be ransomed for a hateful agenda that betrays our sacred American values,” she wrote in a statement over the weekend. “The 50 percent cut to legal immigration in the framework and the recent announcements to end Temporary Protected Status for Central Americans and Haitians are both part of the same cruel agenda. They are part of the Trump Administration’s unmistakable campaign to make America white again.”
As lawmakers and advocates lob criticisms from the left and the right, the window for a resolution for DACA recipients is rapidly closing. When President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions canceled the Obama-era DACA program last year, they set a deadline of March 5. After that date, those hundreds of thousands of young immigrants would be stripped of their protections and could be subject to deportation. Many who were not able to renew their papers have already lost their DACA status.
“We cannot let this moment slip away,” Nielsen said Monday, calling on Congress to act swiftly. “We can not afford to kick the can down the road any further.”