President Donald Trump will meet Thursday at the White House with senators who have been working on a legislative fix to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who will lose their work permits when an Obama-era program ends this spring, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
Trump hasn’t been involved in the day-to-day negotiations on Dreamers ever since he was accused of backing out of a tentative agreement with Democrats in September and insisted the issue be part of a larger immigration package.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and James Lankford, R-Okla. confirmed to McClatchy Wednesday night that they planned to attend the White House meeting. An aide to Sen. Thom Tillis said the North Carolina Republican would also participate.
Trump’s involvement comes after three former homeland security secretaries warned congressional leaders in a letter that a bill needed to pass this month in order to put a program in place to protect the immigrants brought into the country as children.
They said time was running out on a legislative solution to protect those affected from losing their work permits and potentially facing deportation.
Jeh Johnson and Janet Napolitano,secretaries under President Barack Obama, and Michael Chertoff, secretary under President George W. Bush sent the letter Wednesday to Trump’s aides.
"The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away, in the middle of January," they wrote in the letter.
Some lawmakers of both parties are pushing for a legislative fix to be part of deal for Democratic support of a spending package that must be passed by Jan. 19 to keep most of the government operating.
Two top White House aides — Marc Short and Mick Mulvaney — met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about the spending bill and related issues Wednesday.
“We had a positive and productive meeting and all parties have agreed to continue discussing a path forward to quickly resolve all of the issues ahead of us,” Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
A group of bipartisan senators who has been meeting about Dreamers for weeks — Graham, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. and Cory Gardner, R-Colo. — met again Wednesday night at the Capitol, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Those pushing members of Congress to protect Dreamers saw Trump's involvement as a positive sign.
“It’s clear there’s a deal to be struck on protecting Dreamers and strengthening border security, so the fact that the president and Republicans in the Senate are actively meeting on this is very promising,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, which is working with Republicans and Democrats who support protecting DACA recipients.
A White House spokeswoman said she did not have any information she could share about Thursday’s meeting.
“Look, we'd like to make a deal on securing funding for the border wall as well as ending chain migration, ending the visa lottery program, interior enforcement,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Wednesday. “We'd like to do that right away. So if the Democrats are willing to sit down and make that deal, I think we'd be happy to get that done by the end of the month.”
Graham declined to say which other lawmakers were attending the White House meeting, but he called the group “bipartisan.”
Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip and a leader for Senate Democrats on Dreamers, was not invited to the White House, his spokesman said. A Schumer spokesman did not know of any Democrats attending the meeting.
Republicans will need the support of some Democrats to pass a bill that protects the nearly 800,000 people enrolled in a Obama-era program that allows those brought into the country illegally as children to receive temporary, renewable work permits.
As of Wednesday night, however, the official guest list for the White House gathering was still somewhat fluid, a source familiar with the DACA negotiations cautioned.
Tillis and Lankford have been pushing the “SUCCEED Act,” a more conservative approach to protecting Dreamers than the “DREAM Act,” which would give Dreamers an opportunity to achieve legal status and is sponsored by Graham and Durbin.
Flake, who is not seeking re-election this year, has revealed McConnell as having promised a vote to codify the DACA program in exchange for Flake's vote on tax overhaul legislation in December. Gardner is the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee who likely sees GOP action to protect Dreamers as a selling point for his party in the midterms.
Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the program an unconstitutional use of executive authority as they’ve been threatened with lawsuits from Texas and other states.
Trump has added to the uncertainty by blaming Democrats for “doing nothing” to protect young immigrants. But he’s added that he would not accept any deal without funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Brian Murphy of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.