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Offer: Immigrant shield for wall funds

Democrats reject Trump truce bid

By Annie Karni and Sheryl Gay Stolberg in Washington
  • Published 21.01.19, 1:33 AM
  • Updated 28.01.19, 2:52 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
President Donald Trump speaks during a naturalisation ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Saturday, January 19, 2019. AP

President Donald Trump, facing a growing public backlash over the partial government shutdown, shifted course on Saturday and offered Democrats a deal: temporary protections for roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the southern border.

But the proposal, which Trump unveiled in a 13-minute address from the White House, appeared dead on arrival in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected it even before Trump spoke, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, denounced the offer as “not a compromise but more hostage-taking”.

With the shutdown entering its fifth week and polls showing a majority of the public blaming Trump, the President’s advisers have been searching for an exit strategy. Saturday’s speech grew out of talks that Vice-President Mike Pence and the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have had in recent days with lawmakers including Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.

The proposal was Trump’s first public offer to Democrats since the partial shutdown began nearly a month ago. It came after an acrimonious week of tit-for-tat politics.

In casting the plan as a compromise, the President sought to shift pressure to Democrats — who have repeatedly refused to give Trump any money for his border wall — to end the shutdown. But Democrats continued to insist they would not negotiate with Trump over border security until the government reopens.

Over the course of his administration, Trump has repeatedly sought to curb both legal and illegal immigration. He has revoked Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which offers crucial protections for immigrants, for people from some Latin American and African countries. And he has moved to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a Barack Obama-era programme that shielded the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

In the deal he outlined on Saturday, Trump offered to restore TPS protection for 300,000 people, and said he would allow 700,000 Dreamers to keep their protections for three more years in exchange for $5.7 billion for a border barrier.

“That is our plan,” Trump said. “Border security, DACA, TPS. Many other things. Straightforward, fair, reasonable and common sense with lots of compromise.” The proposal, Trump added, was intended to “break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward”.

In a morning Twitter storm on Sunday, Trump said his proposed immigration deal would not lead to amnesty for Dreamers, but appeared to signal support for amnesty as part of a broader immigration agreement.

The President said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal aliens living in the US, while bashing Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for turning down his offer.

“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Trump tweeted. “Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally — but be careful Nancy!”

Trump’s tone on Saturday was softer. He paired the address with his first naturalisation ceremony at the White House, a move intended to underscore the idea that he supports legal immigration. And his language was markedly different; instead of insisting on the “big beautiful wall” he promised during his 2016 campaign, Trump took care to use the word “barrier” as well — and seemed to pare back his vision for it.

Calling the wall “a powerful and beautifully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border”, Trump said: “This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high-priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water.”

Democrats roundly criticised the President’s plan. They were particularly incensed that Trump’s offer extended protections to Dreamers and TPS recipients that he himself revoked. And they said the deal was a non-starter because it did not offer any permanent protections for Dreamers.

“I think it’s simply more fake promises raising false hopes,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said. “It will fool few Americans because it’s neither serious nor credible as a real remedy for Dreamers.”

New York Times News Service and Reuters