Immigration principles could create problems for DACA plan

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:57 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:56 AM

The Trump administration is finalizing the details of a set of immigration principles that could upend efforts to come up with a permanent fix for the status of young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

The principles, according to people familiar with ongoing discussions, were expected to include elements of proposed legislation that would dramatically reduce legal immigration rates. Also to be pursued was an overhaul of the green card system to prevent extended family members, including siblings and adult children, from joining permanent residents in the U.S.

The White House was expected to endorse principles of the Davis-Oliver bill, which aims to give local law enforcement officials the power to enforce immigration laws and allow states to write their own immigration legislation. The White House was also expected to call for billions of dollars in funding for border security, more immigrant detention beds and immigration judges.

It remained unclear whether the principles, which were expected to be announced in the coming days, would serve as a broad immigration wish-list or specific demands the White House expected in exchange for signing legislation for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Under a phase-out plan announced last month by President Donald Trump, more than 150,000 young people covered by DACA, often known as "Dreamers," whose permits were set to expire before March 5 were given the chance to submit renewals — provided they arrived by midnight Thursday.

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative replacement for the program. It shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of young people, many of whom were brought into the U.S. illegally as children, and allowed them to work legally in the country.

While final numbers won't be available until next week, DHS spokesman David Lapan said that about 118,000 of the roughly 154,000 people eligible for renewals had submitted their applications by mid-day Thursday. That left 36,000 — or about 23 percent of those eligible — outstanding. Facilities processing applications were prepared to accept courier deliveries until midnight, he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to discuss specifics of the immigration principles Thursday. Last month she said the list would likely include demanding an end to so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to share information with federal immigration authorities, funding for more immigration judges, and "supporting things like the RAISE Act" limiting legal immigration.

But Ali Noorani, the executive director of the immigration advocacy group National Immigration Forum, said that, if those expectations held true, there was little chance for a DACA deal.

"If the president winds up tying these elements to the DREAM Act," he said, Trump would wind up responsible "for deporting 800,000 young people, which pretty much nobody wants except Stephen Miller," Trump's hard-line senior policy adviser, who was working on the principles.

Immigration advocates spent weeks trying to publicize Thursday's DACA deadline. Earlier this week, dozens of DACA recipients traveled to Washington to try to pressure members of Congress to vote on the Dream Act, which would provide an eventual path to citizenship.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., one of the authors of the RAISE Act, said, "Democrats really want a fix on DACA, and we really want a fix on the immigration system."

"This is a landmark opportunity to fix the DACA problem and once and for all fix the vagaries of this immigration system that really doesn't work," he said.

But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has introduced his own immigration legislation, said it was unlikely the Senate would accept a proposal slashing legal immigration, noting that any DACA legislation will have to attract Democratic support.

"With the deadline we have with DACA, I think it's unrealistic to think we can do broader immigration reform like that," he said. "I don't see that happening."


AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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FBI investigated Jeff Sessions for possible perjury: reports

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

What You Need To Know: Jeff Sessions

The FBI investigated U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for possible perjury last year amid allegations that he misled lawmakers about his contacts with Russians ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

The investigation into Sessions started before the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is tasked with probing Russian efforts to meddle in the election and possible ties to President Donald Trump and his campaign officials, Sessions’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, told The New York Times. The investigation into Sessions has since been closed, Cooper said.

>> Related: Who is Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General?

“The special counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” Cooper told the Times in a statement.

Sessions told lawmakers during his January 2017 confirmation hearing that he had no communications with Russians during Trump’s campaign for the White House, but he faced criticism after it was reported by The Washington Post that Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

>> Related: Democrats call for Sessions' resignation over meetings with Russian ambassador

Sessions claimed he didn’t remember meeting with Kislyak, according to Bloomberg News. He emphasized in a statement released after the Post’s report that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”

Unidentified sources told multiple media outlets, including the Times, Bloomberg and ABC News, that Sessions was unaware of the investigation when he announced the decision Friday to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

>> Related: Why was Andrew McCabe fired? What we know now

McCabe authorized and oversaw the federal criminal investigation into Sessions, according to ABC News. The news network was the first to report Wednesday on the investigation.

The FBI frequently launches perjury investigations based on congressional referrals, according to the Times, though it’s rare for such investigations to lead to charges.

>> Related: Sessions interviewed by Mueller team as part of Russia probe, report says

Mueller’s team interviewed Sessions in January. Cooper told the Times that officials with the special counsel’s office have since told him that the attorney general was considered a witness in the case.

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10 tidbits from inside the massive Omnibus funding bill in Congress

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

Ending weeks of negotiations between Congress and the White House, GOP leaders on Wednesday night released a $1.3 trillion funding plan for the federal government, an agreement that will result in over $100 billion in new spending in 2018, causing heartburn – and opposition – among more conservative Republicans in the House.

Almost six months behind schedule on their budget work, lawmakers produced a mammoth bill, which weighs in at 2,232 pages, the product of extended talks that almost went awry at the last minute.

The bill was highlighted by the inclusion of a number of non-spending provisions, like two measurse championed in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which would get more information into the background check system for gun buyers, and to help schools better recognize possible problems with violence.

Each party had a laundry list of items that they trumpeted in a flurry of news releases sent to reporters – for Republicans, that often included more money for the Pentagon, while Democrats focused on more money for domestic programs.

In all, almost 4,000 pages of bill text and supporting materials were released to lawmakers – almost impossible for anyone to read before the votes, which are expected on Thursday.

But we did some speed reading – and here is some of what we found:

1. The Omnibus features more spending from budget deal. Following through on a bipartisan budget agreement from earlier this year, this funding measure adds more money to the Pentagon – raising the overall military budget to $700 billion this year, and $716 billion in 2019. This year’s hike was $61 billion: “This is the biggest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years,” GOP leaders said in their argument to Republican lawmakers. More money is also added for domestic programs, but that did not match the defense increase, but it was still one reason why Democrats signed on to the agreement. The total for discretionary funding is $1.3 trillion, more than any single year of the Obama Administration.

2. More conservative Republicans not pleased. Even before the details were out on the Omnibus, it wasn’t hard to tell what members of the House Freedom Caucus were going to do on this bill – vote against it – even with the big increase in defense funding. “That is not in anyway close to what the election was about, close to what we campaigned on,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “We all campaigned on changing the status quo,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). “I think all of us agree we’re spending too much,” he added. But that was a minority view within the party, as GOP leaders focused more on the big increase in military funding.

3. President Trump backs it with some reservations. After evidently wavering on the details during the day on Wednesday, the President took to Twitter a few hours later to trumpet some of the details in the agreement, and to knock Democrats for what’s not in the Omnibus – as there is no agreement dealing with younger illegal immigrant children, known as the “Dreamers.” “Democrats refused to take care of DACA,” the President said. “Would have been so easy, but they just didn’t care.”

4. Trump could have had much more for border wall. While the President professed himself satisfied with $1.6 billion in money for border security, Democrats reminded him that they had offered $25 billion for the wall, in exchange for provisions allowing the “Dreamers” to stay in the U.S., and for many to get on a 12-year pathway to citizenship. But for a variety of reasons, the President did not want to accept that kind of an agreement with Congress, as both parties blamed the other for the lack of a deal. As for that $1.6 billion, the bill limits where it can be used:

5. NASA sees a budget boost. With the spending spigot open in this bill, there are very few mentions of cuts in the documents handed out by Republicans, as agencies like NASA instead saw their budgets boosted. NASA – which has drawn strong words of praise from President Trump since he took office – saw its budget go above $20 billion for the first time ever, jumping just over $1 billion. That will be good news to lawmakers in Florida – and many other states – which have a piece of NASA’s research and operations.

6. Omnibus includes funds for a new Hurricane Hunter plane. After a round of devastating hurricane strikes in 2017, this spending plan will direct $121 million to buy a “suitable replacement” for a Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter plane, which will insure that enough planes are ready for a busy storm season. For example, in late September and early October of 2017, one of those planes had three separate mechanical problems – but when it was grounded, there was no backup plane. That’s long been a concern for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and he noted the provision last night after the bill was released.

7. A big change for the Internal Revenue Service. After years of seeing budget reductions, the IRS was a budget winner in this Omnibus spending agreement, as the agency’s budget will go up almost $200 million to $11.43 billion. There will be $320 million specifically dedicated to implementation of the new tax cut law, which was approved late in 2017, in order to change all the forms, schedules, and internal systems to reflect those changes in tax year 2018. $350 million will be directed to improve IRS customer service, which has been suffering more and more telephone delays in recent years. It was a bit of a switch for the GOP to be bragging about how much money they were spending at the IRS, instead of vowing to find new ways to cut the budget at the tax agency.

8. Trump wanted to end transportation grants. Congress tripled them. One piece of President Trump’s budget plan for 2019, was a proposal to eliminate “TIGER” grants for infrastructure. But instead of getting rid of that $500 million program, Congress increased it by $1 billion, tripling the size of those popular transportation grants. Mr. Trump’s first budget also tried to get rid of the TIGER program, but when you look at the budget, you realize quickly that grant programs are popular in both parties, because they funnel money to the folks back home.

9. The ban on funding for a group that no longer exists. Once again, this year’s funding bills from Congress include a provision to make sure no federal dollars go to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, known as ACORN – even though ACORN has disbanded – that happened eight years ago, in 2010. But Republicans have wanted to make sure that any group which looks anything like ACORN, or might turn out to be a progressive grass roots group which acts like ACORN, doesn’t get any federal funding in the future.

10. Death payment for a late lawmaker. Earlier this week came the sad news that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) had died, after the 88 year old veteran lawmaker had fallen at her home. When members die while in office, it is customary for the Congress to approve a full year’s salary for that member’s spouse or estate. It’s officially known on a budget line as “Payment to Widows and Heirs of Deceased Members of Congress.” Looking through the fine print – it’s actually characterized as “mandatory” spending – and not discretionary.

The House will vote first on the plan – most likely on Thursday. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon after.

Lawmakers are then expected to leave town for a two week Easter break.

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GOP leaders unveil giant federal government spending plan

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 4:23 PM

After weeks of negotiations, Congress unveiled a $1.3 trillion funding measure for the federal government on Wednesday night, adding billions in new spending for both the Pentagon and domestic spending programs, adding in a pair of bills dealing with school safety and gun violence, but including no deals on some politically difficult issues like the future of illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

The 2,232 pages of bill text were quietly posted by GOP leaders after yet another day of closed door negotiations, which included a trip down to the White House by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“No bill of this size is perfect,” Ryan said in a written statement, as he touted the extra money in the plan for the U.S. military.

“But this legislation addresses important priorities and makes us stronger at home and abroad,” Ryan added.

Among the items included in the Omnibus funding bill:

+ The bipartisan “Fix NICS” bill, which would press states and federal agencies to funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers.

+ The “STOP School Violence Act,” which would send grant money to local governments to help schools better recognize possible violent threats in schools and their communities.

+ A series of corrections to the recent tax cut law.

Even before the text of the bill was unveiled, a number of Republicans were not pleased, arguing the GOP has done little to merit the support of voters back home, saying it will mean more spending and a bigger government.

“That is not in any way close to what the election was about,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who argued the President should veto the bill.

Also causing some irritation was the fact that the bill was negotiated with little input from most lawmakers, and sprung on them just hours before the House and Senate were due to head out of town on a two week Easter break.

“There is not a single member of Congress who can physically read it, unless they are a speed reader,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

One of the many provisions in the bill included a $174,000 payment to the estate of the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who died earlier this week.

Those type of payments are typical when a lawmaker dies while in office.

GOP leaders hope to vote on the Omnibus in the House on Thursday, as lawmakers are ready to go home for a two-week break for Easter.

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U.S. Senate passes Portman bill to crack down on sex trafficking

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 5:40 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 5:40 PM

            Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a bill that would give victims and prosecutors the right to sue websites that allow posts selling women and young girls – the culmination of a three-year effort by Portman to stop online sex trafficking

The bill, which passed the House at the end of February, now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. Trump has signaled he will sign it.

“It’s a really big week,” said Portman one day before the Senate passed the bill 97 to 2, with only Sens. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, opposing. Portman said after Trump signs the bill, prosecutions of online sex traffickers could begin “within weeks.”

“People could be saved from this,” he said.

RELATED: Portman, internet companies differ over sex trafficking approach

Portman, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, launched an investigation into sex trafficking in 2015. Before long he and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, had discovered a few things: One, that the overwhelming trafficker of women and children was an online marketplace called, and two, that a provision within the 1996 Communications Decency Act effectively gave websites like Backpage legal protection because it protected websites from liability based on third-party posts. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is involved in 75 percent of the online trafficking reports it receives from the public.

The investigation – which included a Supreme Court fight to subpoena information from a very resistant – ultimately found that was well aware that they were at times selling young girls for sex on their site, but tried to protect themselves by simply editing the language on the ads, rather than take the ads down altogether. “They didn’t remove the post because they didn’t want to lose the revenue,” Portman said on the Senate floor.

Portman and other lawmakers became convinced that amending the 1996 law could prevent Backpage and other sites from having essential legal immunity to sell people online.

RELATED: Senators going after website accused of aiding sex trafficking

“It became clear that there was a federal solution that could make a big difference,” Portman said.

His bill – which has been cosponsored by 68 members of the Senate – tweaks the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that are essentially sex trafficking marketplaces can be sued, including by victims or law enforcement.

Among the bill’s cosponsors was Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. He said after the vote that he was glad to join his fellow Ohio senator to pass the bill. “We need to remain vigilant in rooting out human trafficking wherever it occurs,” Brown said.

Portman’s work on the issue – he ran ads highlighting the issue during his 2016 campaign – was featured in a Netflix documentary called “I am Jane Doe.”

That documentary also featured the story of Kubiiki Pride, an Atlanta mother whose daughter ran away from home. Pride looked on Backpage only to find her 14-year-old daughter being sold for sex, with pictures of her daughter in “explicit photographs.

Pride called and asked them to take down the ad. They refused, telling her that she didn’t post the ad nor pay for it, therefore could not take it down. Later, when she finally got her daughter back, she couldn’t sue because of the Communications Decency Act. So frustrated was the legal system by the provision in the law that at one point, a Sacramento judge threw out pimping charges against Backpage and directly called on Congress to act.

Portman said when he began pushing to change the provision, he was met by resistance from websites who told him, point-blank, that they would win.

“This law was considered sacrosanct,” he said.

But now, it’s on the verge of being changed.

“The internet has had a lot of positive aspects for society and our economy,” he said. “But there is a dark side.”

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