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The right's war against Trump's immigration plan

McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- A group that once backed Donald Trump's immigration policies will take the unusual step Wednesday of launching television ads accusing the president of breaking his campaign promise to crack down on immigration.

Other groups are sending email alerts to their supporters, some nearly daily, asking them to contact members of Congress to kill what they call Trump's "amnesty" plan. And still others are blasting his proposal on Facebook and Twitter.

The common denominator is a sense of betrayal by Trump's compromise on immigration.

Trump announced a plan that would offer 1.8 million young immigrants a chance at citizenship and allow millions of immigrants to legally reside in the country through family reunification programs. It leaves out some secure-enforcement measures.

That led activists that once supported his immigration ideas began doing something they never imagined they would do: waging a campaign against him on the issue.

"What happened to the president that promised to put Americans first?" the narrator says in a TV ad paid for by Californians for Population Stabilization and obtained by McClatchy. "Tweet Donald Trump and ask him."

Together, these groups are reaching millions of like-minded Americans who oppose legal status for brought illegally to the U.S. as children, and back significant and immediate cuts to the number of legal immigrants allowed in the country.

They want supporters to call or write lawmakers to urge them to oppose Trump's proposal as Congress debates an immigration overhaul that would include providing legal status for at least the 690,000 young immigrants currently protected under an expiring Obama-era program.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform already had agreed to sponsor Fox News' online live stream of the State of the Union address when Trump announced an immigration plan it didn't support. The group went ahead with its sponsorship but spread its own message on immigration through a call with several hundred activists, emails and social media. This week, the group is accompanying crime victims and sheriffs around the Capitol.

"We are utilizing all our assets –– grass-roots mobilization, digital platforms, paid radio and TV advertising, Hill outreach and ongoing education –– to ensure the historic opportunity to enact true reforms is not squandered and that promises President Trump made are delivered," said RJ Hauman, the group's government relations director.

In addition to a path to citizenship, Trump's proposal would leave in place the backlog of people who have been sponsored for residency by family and exclude enforcement measures to crack down on sanctuary cities and mandate E-Verify, an online system that allows businesses to check work authorization.

In the Senate, the 10 Democrats who face tough re-election bids in states Trump won and moderate Republicans are being urged by these groups not to endorse the president's plan. In the House, Republicans are being lobbied to sign on to a bill by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which includes the additional enforcement measures that the White House plan does not.

The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee is trying to find primary challengers for nearly 100 House Republicans who it claims support protections for the young immigrants. "We're trying to keep the focus on the GOP primary season," said the group's president, William Gheen. "Republican voters want what Trump promised."

Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency in 2016 largely on a campaign focused on cracking down on illegal immigration and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered young immigrants temporary, renewable work permits.

But after wavering for months, he announced in September that he would end the DACA program March 5 to give Congress time to pass legislation to change some aspects of it. But lawmakers haven't been able to find a compromise. Instead, they agreed to fund the federal government until Thursday if Republican leaders committed to take up immigration, including the fate of DACA beneficiaries, this week.

Former Rep. Brian Bilbray, a California Republican who was chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, said the proposal reminds some of the immigration law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 that offered a path to citizenship to nearly 3 million immigrants.

"The White House is leading off with the wrong message across the border and that is what happened in back in the '80s," he said. "We will give amnesty first and we promise enforcement. We want to do the easy, fun stuff first and we don't want to do the heavy lifting first. We don't want to earn the right to even talk about another amnesty."

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Trump proposed offering legal status immediately and citizenship in 10 to 12 years to 1.8 million young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children by their parents who would have been eligible under the original DACA program. In exchange, he would secure enforcement measures that conservatives have long wanted –– $25 billion for border security, drastic reductions to the number of immigrants who could be sponsored by family and an end to the diversity lottery program that awards green cards to immigrants.

The Remembrance Project, which bills itself as "a voice for victims killed by illegal aliens," started a petition to Trump. "You often spoke of our angel families, our loved ones, real Americans, who have suffered the most, who never receive the same sympathy as illegals," Maria Espinoza, the group's co-founder and national director, wrote in an open letter. "It appears to the "Stolen Lives" families and everyone who voted for a Trump presidency, that, sadly, these families indeed have been forgotten, and again silenced."

Californians for Population Stabilization will launch a TV ad campaign Wednesday in Washington and South Carolina, the home of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been negotiating a deal that would include a path to citizenship and a down payment on a $1.6 billion request Trump made this year for border security. The ad will run for at least two weeks.

"Trump campaigned on making America great again, including creating more jobs for working class Americans. And he's done a good job until now," said Toby Nicole White, chief operating officer of the group, known as CAPS. "But his latest immigration plan sells this generation of working class Americans out ... . CAPS is calling on the president to stick to his campaign promises. Put Americans first."

Some advocacy groups say it's been tough to lobby against Trump's proposal because it's only a framework, not legislation. Others don't want to publicly criticize the president.

NumbersUSA isn't targeting him in its television ads. Instead, the group is focused on pushing for the end of what it calls chain migration, immigrants who have been sponsored for residency by family members. It began a six-figure nationwide ad campaign in December and later expanded it to Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Chris Chmielenski, NumbersUSA's director of content and activism, said the initial message was about the White House proposal but it has shifted back to proposals it supports.

Several other groups, including Heritage Action and Americans for Limited Government, have sent out statements opposing the plan. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Tom Davis, a former longtime Republican congressman from Virginia, said the group's lobbying is understandable –– as is the president's attempt to bargain.

"They have a strong belief and certainly Trump was on their side on most of this stuff, that doesn't mean he can't compromise," he said. "They have their bent and he has his. They don't want a deal, they don't want any deal."

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(Lesley Clark and Franco Ordonez contributed to this report.)

(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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