President rejects deal on young immigrants

Plan for Haiti, Africa questioned


WASHINGTON — President Trump rejected a pitch Thursday from senators that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and strengthen U.S. border security.

The senators had hoped Mr. Trump would back their accord, ending a months-long dispute over protecting “Dreamers.”

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington Jan. 9.
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington Jan. 9.

But the White House rejected their proposed agreement, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.

During their conversation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) was explaining that as part of the deal, a lottery for visas benefiting people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said.

Mr. Durbin said people would be allowed to stay in the United States who fled here after disasters hit their homes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti.

Mr. Trump questioned why the United States would want to admit more people from Haiti. He also mentioned Africa, sources said.

“Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?” Mr. Trump told senators in the Oval Office, sources said.

The President suggested that instead, the United States should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Mr. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Asked about the remarks, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.

“Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy, and assimilate into our great nation,” Mr. Shah said.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly describe the conversation.

The Trump Administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States after a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The proposal that Mr. Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) described to the President includes his $1.6 billion request for a first installment on a border wall, aides familiar with the agreement said. Mr. Trump’s request covers 74 miles of border wall as part of a 10-year, $18 billion proposal.

Democrats had long vowed they would not fund the wall, but they are accepting the opening request as part of a broader plan that protects from deportation about 800,000 younger immigrants brought to the country as children and now here illegally.

The proposed deal also includes restrictions on rules allowing immigrants to bring some relatives to the United States.

Three other GOP lawmakers — including two hard-liners on immigration — were in Mr. Trump’s office for Thursday’s meeting, a development sources said Mr. Durbin and Mr. Graham did not expect.

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

“We haven’t quite gotten there, but we feel like we’re close,” she said.

Other Republicans also undercut the significance of the deal the half-dozen senators hoped to sell to Mr. Trump.

“How do six people bind the other 94 in the Senate? I don’t get that,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

Mr. Cornyn said the six lawmakers were hoping for a deal and “everyone would fall in line. The President made it clear to me on the phone less than an hour ago that he wasn’t going to do that.”

The six senators have been meeting for months to find a way to revive protections for young immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and are here illegally.

Mr. Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.

Federal agencies will run out of money and have to shut down if lawmakers don’t pass legislation extending their financing by Jan. 19.

Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes unless an immigration accord is reached.

Mr. Cornyn said the real work for a bipartisan immigration deal will be achieved by a group of four leading lawmakers — the No. 2 Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate.

That group met for the first time this week.

The immigration effort seemed to receive a boost Tuesday when Mr. Trump met with two dozen lawmakers and agreed to seek a bipartisan way to resuscitate the program.

The group agreed to also include provisions strengthening security, curbing immigrants’ relatives from coming here, and restricting the visa lottery.

Others present at Thursday’s Oval Office meeting were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and two conservative lawmakers who’ve taken a hard line on immigration: Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.).