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Trump is transforming the GOP against legal immigration. Will Congress follow?

Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The furor over President Donald Trump's language about immigrants from "shithole countries" has partially obscured the substance of what he was demanding and the profound shift among Republicans away from opposing illegal immigration to pushing new limits on legal migrants, particularly of color.

Trump made the remark as he rejected a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to resolve the status of some 700,000 so-called Dreamers facing deportation. In exchange for protecting them, Trump wanted more restrictions on legal migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, among other changes.

Those demands come as Trump has already put the country on track to remove 1 million immigrants over the next two years. Among them are the Dreamers -- young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children -- and more than 200,000 Salvadorans, nearly 60,000 Haitians and others from Central America who have lived in the U.S. legally, in some cases for decades, under temporary protected status plans that the administration is ending.

The mounting total is a policy reversal for Republicans, who until recently insisted that welcoming new arrivals was vital not just to the fabric of American life but in boosting the domestic economy. Now, many Republicans in Congress have shifted to a more restrictionist position, following Trump's lead.

Trump "has taken our issues off the back burner and thrust them into the spotlight," said Roy Beck, executive director at Numbers USA, which argues for reducing immigration to midcentury levels, before passage of the 1965 immigration overhaul ushered in a new era of diverse migrants.

Beck marvels at the turn of events.

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"The president has done as much as we hoped for," he said.

Trump's insistence on immigration restrictions may have increased the odds of a confrontation next week when Congress must vote on a measure to fund agencies or risk a partial government shutdown.

Many Democrats -- and some Republicans -- have said they won't vote for the money bill unless it includes a solution for the Dreamers. More than 100 each day are starting to lose permission to stay and work in the U.S. as Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that was created by the Obama administration. Starting March 5, unless Congress acts, about 1,000 DACA recipients each day will lose their legal protections and face potential deportation.

Trump's comments have raised the stakes in the debate over their future.


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