The White House announced Tuesday that it has quietly drafted a 600-page immigration bill and has lined up ten Republican senators to co-sponsor the measure should it be introduced, according to a senior administration official involved in the process.
This builds on a blueprint President Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner announced in May, which addressed border security and legal immigration but didn’t deal with the millions of people currently in the country illegally, including young people known as dreamers.
The push for a new immigration bill comes just days after Trump ignited a furious controversy by tweeting that four non-white members of Congress should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” even though all four members are American citizens and three of the four were born in the United States.
When the immigration blueprint was first announced it was greeted with mixed reviews and a heavy dose of skepticism about its political prospects. After that initial burst of energy, Congress seemingly ignored it and the White House stopped talking about it.
“We had a lot of very cynical people who said when we did our last proposal ‘that was a very good political speech but what are you guys doing next’?” said the senior administration official. “And we went quiet and nobody heard about it and we’ve been working.”
During a Cabinet meeting at the White House Tuesday, Trump threw his support behind the Kushner-led plan.
He called it “compassionate and the “the best of everything.”
“Our country really has a tremendous immigration gap,” Trump said, calling the current system a “maze of complexity.”
This bill, which hasn’t yet been introduced and may not be, was drafted in consultation with about 25 Republican Senate offices and a handful of House Republicans, the official said.
The senior administration officials said process included adding items and taking others out. They tightened language.
“Now we are at a place where we feel like the bill is substantially complete,” the officials said.
It’s not clear how having legislative language will get this proposal any closer to becoming law, but the senior administration official said they’ll be meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader McCarthy Tuesday to discuss that.
McConnell has said that any major immigration effort needs to be bipartisan, but Democrats are unlikely to agree to sweeping border security measures without some kind of protections for the so-called Dreamers brought to the country illegally as children or the larger 11 million people in the country illegally.
Distrust between of the White House from Democrats is at perhaps its highest point as the administration comes under fire for it’s handling of detained immigration children, planned immigration sweeps and the racially-tinged comments about several progressive lawmakers, among other items.
But getting Democratic support is not necessarily the president’s objective. White House officials recognize the challenges gaining support from Democrats, but a senior administration official said part of the goal is unifying key factions of the GOP about a path forward.
Supporters say it also should give Republicans something to rally around for the 2020 elections.
The senior administration official touted support its received from conservative groups and pundits, including Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. He bragged that they were able to work with twenty-five Senate offices and a dozen House offices without any any leaks.
“While this plan doesn’t make every needed change or fulfill every campaign promise, it offers the country a viable path forward in the face of Democrat immigration extremism,” said RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement.
The plan includes an updated legal immigration system that replaces allowing entry to low-skilled workers with a merit-based system that prioritizes immigrants with special skills. It would also strengthen border security, increase interior enforcement and tighten asylum procedures.
The proposal would also include installing a nationwide federal employment verification program, known as E-Verify, federal program to check whether new employees were legally allowed to work. Conservative groups have long pushed for the program, but big business has lobbied against it. But that may be changing.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied Congress against a national E-Verify mandate during the Bush and Obama administrations, has since welcomed the idea as long as it includes an improved guest worker proposal. The National Association of Manufacturers also supports mandatory employment verification system like E-Verify.
When asked about the political realities of a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, a fast-approaching August recess, budget fights and an election year on the horizon, the official returned to what has been a common posture for the Trump White House.
“People in Washington think very conventionally all the time and immigration is something that has been troubling people for 25 years everyone can say what they’re against but nobody can say what they’re for,” the official said.
The goal for this document, the official argued, was “seeing if we can unify the Republicans around this proposal.”
The official readily admitted that the White House could put this out and nothing will happen at all. And “this will be something that we talk about during the election but at least the president will be on record saying ‘this is what I am for’ in a very detailed capacity.”