WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million young unauthorised immigrants, in exchange for an end to decades of family-based migration policies, a border wall and a vast crackdown on other immigrants living in the country illegally.
Describing the plan as "extremely generous" but a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, White House officials said they hoped it would be embraced by conservatives and centrists in Congress as the first step in an even broader effort to fix the nation's immigration system.
Officials said the legislation would pave the way to citizenship not only for the 690,000 people who had signed up for protection under an Obama-era programme known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), but also for another 1.1 million unauthorised immigrants who would have qualified but never applied.
In exchange, Congress would have to create a US$25 billion (S$32.7 billion) trust fund to pay for a border wall, dramatically increase immigration arrests, speed up deportations, crack down on people who overstay, prevent citizens from bringing their parents to the United States, and end a State Department programme designed to encourage migration from under-represented countries.
"These are good people; these are people that should be able to stay in this country," Mr Trump said in an interview with CNBC that aired yesterday. "We are going to solve the Daca problem. But we also want to solve a tremendous problem on the southern border, which is crime."
He added that the wall would not cost US$25 billion. "We will build a great wall and we will have a lot of money left over, and we will spend it on other things," he said.
Mr Trump said he believed some Republicans lawmakers who have taken tough stances on immigration would agree to offer citizenship within 10 to 12 years to young immigrants brought to the country illegally. "They have really shifted a lot, and I think they are willing to shift more, and so am I," he told CNBC in an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos. "We are going to see. If we make the right deal, I think they will."
Mr Trump ended the Daca programme, whose protections did not include a path to citizenship, last September. But the new plan - drafted by Mr Stephen Miller, the President's domestic policy adviser, and General John Kelly, the White House chief of staff - was immediately rejected by Democrats, immigration advocates and some Republicans, with some describing it as nothing but an attempt to rid the country of immigrants and shut the nation's borders.
"If you start putting in all of these highly charged toxic issues, it is just not going to work," said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.
Anti-immigration activists also assailed the plan, though for the opposite reason.
Breitbart News greeted word of the President's plan with the headline, "Amnesty Don suggests citizenship for illegal aliens".
NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS