President Donald Trump met Tuesday with Democratic and Republican members of Congress to discuss immigration. The various factions committed to new legislation in the coming days.
“It should be a bill of love,” said President Trump. He sat between two Democratic leaders. “But it also has to be a bill where we’re able to secure our border.”
The bipartisan meeting was opened to the media. CNN called it “extraordinary” as lawmakers of both parties openly discussed their differences.
“I do have people that are … very far right and very far left,” observed President Trump. “They’re very unhappy about what we’re doing. But I really don’t believe they have to be, because I think this sells itself.”
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference praised how President Trump personalized the issue.
“The president had the inclination to say, I am a grandfather and a father. We are not going to harm these young men and women who came here by no will of their own. That speaks volumes to so many people,” he said.
Deadlines Link Two Issues Together
The meeting came as two deadlines fast approach on Capitol Hill. A short-term spending bill passed in December set January 19 as its end date. It requires House and Senate leaders to agree to spending levels. If they don’t, the government will shutdown. This would affect even some veterans’ services.
Another deadline concerns the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Obama-era policy was established in 2012. It allowed for nearly 800,000 young immigrants to remain in the U.S.
After ten states brought legal challenges against DACA, the White House announced a decision last September. President Trump stated DACA would be phased out by March 5. He also urged Congress to unite to “solve the DACA issue with heart and compassion.”
Leaders in both parties decided to act on the two issues concurrently. Among 23 members of Congress who attended the White House event were several high-ranking leaders. They included Senate whips John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). House leaders Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also attended.
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“I believe that DACA recipients should have great confidence,” Rodriguez told The Stream after the meeting. “There is a commitment on behalf of the government to make sure these individuals will enrich the collective American narrative.”
Rodriguez serves as a member of the Faith Leaders Initiative, the group of evangelical leaders who advise the White House when asked. He also pastors New Seasons Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California and serves on an advisory board for The Stream.
Since last fall, his group has advocated for lawmakers to find a solution to the DACA issue.
Answering Conservative Criticisms
Some on the right question the drive to secure the status of DACA recipients. Hans von Spakovsky of The Heritage Foundation criticized proposals to salvage DACA.
The policy allows certain immigrants to cut in front others in the legal process, he claimed. “Provid[ing] amnesty to so-called Dreamers … would be unfair to legal immigrants who obeyed the law to come here,” the policy analyst stated.
“I think that criticism is far-fetched,” responded Rodriguez. “These are not individuals who came here crossing the Rio Grande at the age of 35. They were children when they were brought here. They are hard-working people. Many of them have served in the military. So it’s not about cutting anything. This is the right thing to do.”
Von Spakovsky also suggested some young immigrants present a security risk. “The Obama administration used a ‘lean and light’ system of background checks in which only a few, randomly selected DACA applicants were ever actually vetted,” he wrote.
“These kids should not pay for the sins of their parents.”
“I was in Nevada with President Obama when he initiated this DACA program,” Rodriguez said in response. “There was a thorough commitment to vetting. He spoke of it often. We need to make sure these men and women are not involved in nefarious activities, gangs or criminal enterprise.”
He noted that President Trump is responsible for stopping more potential immigrants at the border than other presidents.
“But many don’t know that deportations overall were higher under President Obama,” he said. “It shows a commitment on behalf of that administration to engage in thorough vetting.” Official sources confirm an overall decline in deportations under President Trump.
Debate Over DACA and Dollars
According to press statements since the meeting, the leaders reached agreement on four items. These include resolving the DACA phase out, improving border security, limiting “chain migration” and ending the visa lottery system.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted his House bill will address these four categories. But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) of the House Freedom Caucus expressed concerns. “Generally, I’m opposed to a two-step process because history would indicate the second step never happens,” he said.
Others caution that the spending bill details not get lost in the fervor over immigration fixes. “Federal spending is on an unsustainable upward trajectory,” said Heritage budget expert Romina Boccia. “It is driving national debt to economically harmful levels.”
For his part, Rodriguez sees solutions within reach on an issue that has concerned hundreds of thousands of families in America. “These kids should not pay for the sins of their parents,” he said.
“You could have the most ultra-conservative rhetoric on immigration. But, as it pertains to children, the vast majority of Americans agree on this.”