Border Security Takes Center Stage in Debate Over 'Dreamers'

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are working on an immigration deal that will include security measures as well as a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Now that President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress have agreed to pursue a deal that would boost border enforcement in exchange for legal status for young undocumented immigrants, the focus is shifting to what security measures the package could include.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said following a Wednesday night meeting with the president that they had agreed to table the administration’s request for money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a nonstarter for Democrats from the beginning.

The White House debated the claim, but the framework for a deal excluding the wall was already taking shape Thursday  as Democrats staked out their starting point for negotiations.

“Both sides agreed that the White House and the Democratic leaders would work out a border security package,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement. “Possible proposals were discussed including new technology, drones, air support, sensor equipment, [and] rebuilding roads along the border.”

The Democrats also proposed passage of a bipartisan bill unanimously approved by the House Homeland Security Committee in 2013. That legislation, co-sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, would require the administration to apprehend at least 90 percent of undocumented people trying to cross the border.

“Every one of these ideas would provide better, more effective border security than a medieval wall,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Some of Schumer’s ideas are already included in a fiscal 2018 omnibus passed by the House on Thursday morning. Though the spending measure stands little chance of being enacted into law — partly because it includes $1.57 billion for Trump’s wall — the package includes nearly $350 million for border technology, aircraft, sensors and inspection equipment.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that Senate Republicans “look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues.” The Senate’s top Republican spoke with Trump about the discussions Thursday morning, his office said.

The White House had yet to offer its own specific starting point for negotiations, but Trump told reporters he wants “to get massive border security.”

It will likely be a heavy lift for a majority of House Republicans and the Senate’s toughest immigration hawks to agree on legislation that would grant permanent legal status to the roughly 800,000 young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Hard-liners are already criticizing this element as “amnesty,” suggesting it would amount to a reward for lawbreakers.

The McCaul-Thompson bill is also unlikely to win their support because it does not authorize increased border infrastructure or the hiring of more Border Patrol agents.

Republicans including McCaul have offered their own border security bills that might prove more palatable for conservatives. McCaul’s bill would authorize $10 billion for Trump’s border wall, surveillance technologies and the hiring of thousands of border and immigration agents. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced a similar measure.

But conservatives in the House are already signaling there is no border security bill enticing enough to win their support for the legislative fix for DACA recipients, better known as Dreamers.

“I’ve had some discussions with leadership along the way and told them I don’t see a path for how I would get to yes on amnesty,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told reporters Thursday morning.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, doubted altogether that a deal excluding Trump’s wall could be made, indicating that border security measures should be passed and placed into action before passing a DACA fix.

“It’s implementation of something that solves the immigration problem before you cut the deal, that’s the answer,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go down.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said “an understanding” between leaders of both parties and the White House on how his border wall would eventually be funded is a prerequisite for any deal on Dreamers.

“Very important is the wall,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “We have to be sure the wall isn’t obstructed because without the wall I wouldn’t do anything. It doesn’t have to be here but they can’t obstruct the wall if it’s in a budget or anything else.”

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