WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump and Republican senators met Tuesday to discuss a new immigration plan being spearheaded by senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Several GOP senators complimented the effort.
Kushner is working to finalize a plan with two major components: border security measures that would include efforts to secure ports of entry, and a package of immigration proposals that would create a more "merit-based" system to give preference to those with job skills rather than relatives of immigrants already in the country. Under the plan, the same number of people would be permitted to enter the country, but the composition would change.
A senior administration official told reporters after the meeting that Trump has signed off on the plan.
The White House is also working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on additional legislation that would address the nation's asylum system to stem the flow of migrants across the border, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline the plan.
Several GOP senators who attended approved of the effort, which the White House deemed "productive." Democrats were not in attendance.
"The president and senators discussed a potential plan that would secure the border, protect and raise wages for the American worker, and move toward a merit-based immigration system," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a written readout of the meeting.
After he returned to the Capitol, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., described a "very good productive conversation. ... I heard large areas of agreement from everyone in the room." Cotton said he still needs to see the details but that things are "moving in the right direction."
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., complimented Kushner and the White House.
"They have done substantial work," she told Fox News in an interview at the White House after the meeting.
And Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., called it a "good starting point" that could be appealing to Democrats in the right situation.
"I think the environment right now with the booming economy, workforce demands, a crisis at the border that's no longer deemed manufactured presents an opportunity for discussion," he said.
Lawmakers have struggled for decades to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Conservative Republicans are likely to oppose a plan that does not cut rates of legal immigration, while Democrats have made clear they will not accept changes without new protections for people who were brought into the country as children and are now here illegally, sometimes called Dreamers. Some Republicans would like to see protections for that group as well.
Some have also reacted skeptically to Kushner's involvement, given that he has no previous background on the subject. Kushner has nonetheless spent months meeting with various Republican groups, hoping to put together a proposal that he believes can unite party members, following the playbook he used to help pass bipartisan criminal justice legislation last year.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who favors stricter immigration enforcement, kept expectations in check before the meeting.
"Well I think anything I'm looking for they probably won't have any chance of getting passed," he told reporters.
Kushner said during an interview at the TIME 100 Summit two weeks ago that he would present a revised version to Trump "probably at the end of this week, next week" and that the president would then "make some changes, likely, and then he'll decide what he wants to do with it when he wants to do with it."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday described the plan as "fairly comprehensive" and said it could include changes to the diversity visa lottery, which Trump has long criticized.
She also told Fox News Channel that Trump might be open to a deal that would address the plight of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.
WAITING IN MEXICO
Separately, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration can force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings while the policy is challenged in court.
The order by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a decision by a San Francisco judge that would have prevented asylum seekers from being returned to Mexico during the legal challenge.
The case must still be considered on its merits at a lower court in San Francisco and could end up at the Supreme Court.
The ruling comes as the Trump administration has sent new guidelines to U.S. asylum officers, directing them to take a more skeptical and confrontational approach during interviews with migrants seeking refuge. It is the latest measure aimed at tightening the nation's legal "loopholes" that Homeland Security officials blame for a spike in border crossings.
According to internal documents and staff emails obtained Tuesday by The Washington Post, the asylum officers will more aggressively challenge applicants whose assertions of persecution contain discrepancies, and the officers will need to provide detailed justifications before concluding that an applicant has a well-founded fear of harm if deported to his home country.
The changes require officers to zero in on any gaps between what migrants say to U.S. border agents after they are taken into custody and testimony they provide during the interview process with a trained asylum officer.
"Officers conducting credible fear interviews should also be addressing any more detailed inconsistencies between the applicant's testimony during the credible fear interview and other testimony in sworn statement," John Lafferty, the head of the asylum division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote to staff members in an email, outlining the changes.
Officials with Citizenship and Immigration Services and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
One asylum officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the changes are "huge" and would make the screening process more time-consuming by requiring officers to provide detailed written analyses before referring applicants to the courts.
Homeland Security agencies already are struggling to comply with court orders limiting the amount of time families with children can be held in detention, and further processing delays could exacerbate crowding at Border Patrol stations and immigration jails. Some areas along the border have been overwhelmed, at times seeing three times more migrants than they have beds for in detention facilities, leading many to be released into the United States after initial questioning.
Migrants taken into custody at the border who convey a fear of persecution in their homelands typically receive cursory interviews with asylum officers, and it is up to those officers to evaluate whether the people's stories are credible enough to be referred to immigration courts for fuller assessments.
The initial screening is known as a "credible fear" assessment, and it has become a particular focus of frustration for the White House at a time when illegal border crossings have jumped to a 12-year high, exceeding 100,000 per month.
An avalanche of new applicants in recent years has contributed to a backlog of more than 860,000 cases in U.S. immigration courts, and it can take years for an asylum applicant to get a final answer in court.
That lag time has created a loophole in U.S. immigration enforcement, Homeland Security Department officials say, especially for applicants who arrive with children. They are typically released from custody and allowed to remain in the country while their cases are adjudicated. The process allows them to spend years living and working in the United States, regardless of whether their claims are ultimately found to be valid.
The administration's changes take effect immediately, and asylum officers will be trained in their application in coming weeks, according to the emails and officials with Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Information for this article was contributed by Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville, Brian Melley and Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press; and by Nick Miroff of The Washington Post.
A Section on 05/08/2019
Print Headline: Trump, senators keen on new immigration plan