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Trump seeks restrictions on 'chain migration' as part of DACA deal

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump has reportedly rejected a compromise that would protect so-called Dreamers but fall short of meeting his demands on family-based immigration and other issues.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced Thursday that a bipartisan working group of senators reached a tentative “agreement in principle” that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, family reunification, and beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

However, soon afterward, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., briefed Trump on the deal and were shot down.

“There has not been a deal reached yet,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

President Trump announced last fall that he would end DACA—which provided protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children—in March, saying President Barack Obama’s executive order instituting it was unconstitutional but urging Congress to act to allow Dreamers to stay.

Democrats had sought a bill that just deals with the status of Dreamers, but Republicans believe any relief for them should be tied to other immigration policy priorities. Lawmakers are also at odds over whether DACA should be dealt with in conjunction with providing funding for the federal government, which is currently on track to run out on Jan. 19.

Some liberal lawmakers and immigration advocates have pressed for Democrats to threaten to shut down the government if they cannot get a clean DACA bill. Conservatives have similarly urged President Trump not to give Democrats something for nothing.

In the last few weeks, Trump has made a number of demands for any legislation that includes a permanent fix for Dreamers to also provide funding for a border wall and eliminate the diversity lottery and “chain migration.”

“Chain migration is bringing in many, many people with one, and often it doesn’t work out very well,” Trump said at a bipartisan meeting at the White House Tuesday. “Those many people are not doing us right. And I think a lot of people in the room — and I’m not sure I can speak for everybody, but a lot of the people in this room want to see chain migration ended.”

The term refers to the current family-based immigration system that enables citizens and permanent residents to sponsor relatives for visas. Critics say the program could allow every immigrant to bring in many of their relatives without consideration to what their family members contribute to American society.

Proponents of the current system counter that it can take years or even decades for a family member to get approved for entry, and applicants face the same security screening as other immigrants. They also maintain having a family support system in place enables immigrants to assimilate more easily.

Trump has grown increasingly critical of family-based immigration in recent months as suspects in several terrorist attacks were found to be beneficiaries of either chain migration or the diversity lottery.

“The chain immigration, though, has taken a very big hit in the last year with what’s happening,” Trump said Tuesday. “I mean, you’re looking at these killers — whether you like or not — we’re looking at these killers and then you see, 18 people came in, 22 people came in, 30 people came in, with this one person that just killed a lot of people.”

The president was referring to terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov, who allegedly killed eight people with a rented truck in New York City on October 31. Saipov immigrated from Uzbekistan on a diversity visa in 2010. Trump has repeatedly claimed he brought more than 20 people into the U.S., but no evidence has been released to support that allegation.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment on Saipov’s record or the administration’s stance on family-based immigration Thursday.

“I really don’t believe there are a lot of Democrats saying, ‘We will be supporting chain migration,’ anymore,” Trump added.

Other Republicans in the meeting also took aim at the family-based system.

“The chain migration is so insidious,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who has co-sponsored an immigration bill the president supports. “It is the fundamental flaw in the immigration policy of the United States.”

“We’ve got to do DACA…but if we do not do something with the security, if we do not do something with the chain migration, we are fooling each other that we solved the problem,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Under the current system, citizens can sponsor an unlimited number of spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21. Adult children, siblings, and their spouses and minor children allowed per year are capped. Legal permanent residents can also bring in a limited number of their own spouses and children. Additional restrictions apply to the total number of visas granted per country each year.

Immigration principles released by the Trump administration last fall included a call to “end extended-family chain migration by limiting family-based green cards to spouses and minor children and replace it with a merit-based system that prioritizes skills and economic contributions over family connections.”

President Trump’s recently-released National Security Strategy states extended-family chain migration is “contrary to our national interest and national security.”

Most immigrants currently admitted to the U.S. due to family connections are immediate relatives of citizens, so such changes might not directly impact them. Of all immigrants accepted in 2015, 44 percent were immediate relatives, other family relationships accounted for 20 percent, and 5 percent came from the diversity lottery. The rest were asylum-seekers, refugees, and employment-based visa holders.

DACA presents a tangential but similarly thorny issue because Dreamers could conceivably sponsor the parents who brought them into the country illegally for citizenship if they become citizens. Whether the broader chain migration question is addressed in legislation resolving the Dreamers’ status or not, some consensus would need to be reached on their parents.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, several Republicans underscored the imperative to address additional immigration issues in any DACA compromise.

“How could anyone disagree with securing our southern border or some of the other reforms such as the lottery, which we don’t know who’s coming into the country or the family ties where we allow an enormous preference for people who have family members here?” asked Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

According to Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., an agreement must be in service of Trump’s “America First agenda.”

“I’m not a supporter of reauthorizing DACA in the absence of border security and other immigration proposals,” he said. “[Trump is] concerned about chain migration, about the types of impact we have in employment when people cross the border illegally and the costs that are associated.”

Democrats did not directly address chain migration, but they signaled a willingness to make concessions in other areas.

“Border security is something supported on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “Let’s take the Dreamer bill and border security and combine them together and get a bill to the president.”

“I think there is a sweet spot to be found with increased border security--and if the president wishes to call it a wall, that’s fine--and proper protection for these kids who are in the Dreamer program,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

According to Guillermo Cantor, director of research at the American Immigration Council, family-based immigration has been unfairly demonized.

“When we think about immigration policy, we have to think more broadly about what happens when immigrants come into a new country and get settled,” he said.

Since the U.S. lacks robust programs to aid new immigrants with assimilation, having family to provide support and things like child care can help.

“There’s a lot of research that shows families, especially in the U.S., have been instrumental in facilitating the integration,” Cantor said.

However, Matt O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, argued the country would be better served by a system similar to Canada and Britain that prizes skills over blood relation.

“People need to be aware of what we don’t have, which is a way for well-educated people, entrepreneurs, and people with specialized skills in trades and manufacturing, we don’t have a way for them to go to the head of the line,” he said.

Employment and education visas are available, but O’Brien said they are backlogged and inefficient. He supports family visas for spouses and minor children, but not for other relatives.

“There’s no reason why if people are coming here, particularly if we have a merit-based system, if people are coming to work, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have their family…,” he said. “What’s unreasonable is where you’re talking about siblings of lawful permanent residents.”

Cantor took issue with that approach, saying the existing process is long and complicated and includes procedures to ensure applicants will have resources and support if admitted.

“I do think that would be very problematic,” he said of limiting preference to spouses and children. “The notion is that family-based immigrants are people who are coming here to try to take advantage of some sort.”

According to Reuters, the number of family-based visas granted dropped to the lowest level in a decade in 2017 without any legislative changes. Approvals of family visas dropped by nearly 25 percent in the first nine months of 2017, and visas for extended family members plummeted by 70 percent.

No new policy or guidance has been cited as a cause for this drop, but closer scrutiny of all applicants could be slowing processing time.

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