Trump offers extension for ‘dreamers’ in exchange for border wall
House speaker Nancy Pelosi says offer is ‘unacceptable’ as shutdown impasse continues
US president Donald Trump has offered to extend protection to “dreamers” – young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children – and other categories of immigrants if Democrats agree to $5.7 billion in funding for border security.
In a highly anticipated address from the White House on Saturday afternoon, Mr Trump said he was prepared to extend the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme for “dreamers” by three years.
He would also extend temporary protected status (TPS) to citizens of certain African and south American countries who have temporary permission to stay in the United States due to circumstances such as natural disasters.
The move was the latest attempt to break the month-long impasse that has led to the longest government shutdown in American history.
But even before he made the announcement, Democrats said there was nothing new in his proposals. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the offer was “unacceptable” and did not “represent a good-faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives”. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer noted that Mr Trump himself had decided to end the DACA and TPS programmes, moves that have since been held up by the courts.
“It was the president who single-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place – offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage-taking,” the New York senator said.
In particular, Mr Trump’s continued demand for $5.7 billion in funds for a border wall irked Democrats.
“This is not a 2,000-long concrete structure from sea to sea,” Mr Trump said. “These are steel barriers in high-priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water.”
He said that the request would add another 230 miles of barrier in areas of most need.
The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen
The president also proposed hundreds of millions of dollars for humanitarian assistance at the border as well as funds to hire thousands more law enforcement agents and immigration judges.
“This is a common-sense compromise both parties should embrace,” Mr Trump said. “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen.”
Though the president’s moves to give amnesty to some immigrants may be welcomed by some Democrats, he is not offering a path to citizenship for these people – the ultimate aim for most immigration campaigners.
Mr Trump’s address from the West Wing on Saturday took place hours after he presided over a naturalisation ceremony in the White House – a move that was widely seen as an effort by the Trump administration to show that they support legal immigration.
Welcoming “the five newest members of our great American family” Mr Trump said it was a “honour” to attend the ceremony. “Each of you worked hard for this moment. You followed the rules, upheld our laws, and contributed to the strength and success and vitality of our nation.”
While most Republicans extolled Mr Trump’s “leadership,” arguing that he was offering a solution to the government shutdown, some commentators on the right were unhappy, indicating the challenge facing the president as he tries to keep his base on side. Prominent conservative commentator Ann Coulter said that the proposal offered “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. “We voted for Trump and got Jeb!” she tweeted, referring to former presidential candidate Jeb Bush who favoured an immigration overhaul that would offer paths to legal status for undocumented residents.
The latest attempt to end the month-long government shutdown follows an acrimonious week in Washington which saw relations between Mr Trump and Ms Pelosi sharply deteriorate.
On Thursday Mr Trump cancelled a planned trip by Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation to Afghanistan just minutes before they were due to leave Washington by denying the members of congress use of a military plane.
It followed a request by Ms Pelosi for the president to postpone his state of the union address on January 29th due to the shutdown.
Tweeting on Sunday, Mr Trump said: “Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak. They don’t see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 – which they are not going to win. Best economy! They should do the right thing for the Country & allow people to go back to work.”
Some 800,000 federal workers have been impacted by the shutdown which has left vast swathes of the government system closed.