The Trump administration and Congress have a matter of weeks to agree to an immigration deal that would protect potentially millions of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation.
President Trump is winding down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed qualified immigrants to work and go to school. The White House set a March 5 deadline for action by Congress.
Before then, lawmakers face a Feb. 8 deadline to fund the government — not too long after a three-day shutdown triggered by the fight over DACA. The Senate will start its immigration debate immediately after the spending deadline.
Getting to a deal will be anything but easy given contrasting positions of the White House, Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Here are five big hurdles to a deal.
Can there be an agreement on citizenship?
Trump is now backing a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers,” a stance that significantly increases the likelihood it will be a part of a deal.
But there’s no guarantee.
Trump’s proposal is paired with spending $25 billion on border security including funding for the wall with Mexico; an end to family immigration policies that allow immigrants to bring parents and adult children to the United States, and the death of the visa lottery program designed to bring in more people from countries that send fewer immigrants to the United States.
Democrats and some Republicans support allowing DACA recipients to become citizens. A bipartisan proposal from Graham and Durbin would give a ten-to-12-year path, the same timeframe outlined by Trump.
A bill proposed last year by GOP Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and James Lankford (Okla.) set up a 15-year waiting period.
But a number of Republicans oppose including a path to citizenship, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Trump’s “amnesty deal negotiates away American Sovereignty.
And Trump could back away if Democrats refuse to meet his other demands.
“What I think people need to realize is he’s willing to do citizenship if, and only if, it becomes accompanied with the border and ending chain migration,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Deciding on the size of the deal
Trump has set out four pillars for the talks: DACA, border security, family migration and the visa lottery program.
But some senators think it might be smarter to work on a smaller deal.
They are floating a scaled back immigration plan that would pair protections for DACA recipients with a border security package. That plan would leave out a path for citizenship, supported by Democrats, and the changes to family-based immigration pushed for by conservatives.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said that including “chain,” or family-based immigration—which allows citizens and legal residents to sponsor their family members—makes the debate “a lot more complicated.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is up for reelection in a state won by Trump, added: “If you start putting in all of these highly charged, toxic, issues it’s just not going to work.”
But conservatives are demanding changes to family-based immigration as part of any deal.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is taking the lead for Republicans on drafting the Senate bill, accused senators of trying to “alter reality.”
“The reality is the president said there had to be four pillars and I think people just need to accept that and deal with it,” he said.
Getting a bill through the House
Getting an immigration bill through the Senate is one thing. Getting one through the House is another.
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both saw immigration deals die in the lower chamber, so there is plenty of room to doubt a deal brokered in the Senate will survive in the more conservative House.
Conservative House lawmakers are already putting heavy pressure on their leaders to bring legislation spearheaded by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to the floor.
The Goodlatte bill provides DACA recipients a temporary, three-year legal status that could be renewed indefinitely instead of a path citizenship. It also includes elements of the White House’s wish list, including $30 billion to build a border wall and bolster other security measures.
Senators are torn on how to handle the House.
Some Republicans, including GOP Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Graham, argue if they can get at least 70 supporters on the Senate proposal, it might help win over the lower chamber.
Others are preaching for their colleagues to be realistic.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said the Senate needs to be “mindful” of their House counterparts.
Trump’s immigration framework is already under fire from both sides, who are casting the proposal as a non-starter.
Breitbart News, a conservative website, labeled the plan “Don’s Amnesty Bonanza,” while on the left, CREDO Action said it was a “white supremacist’s wish list.”
The criticism from progressives is less surprising because Trump’s proposal was put together by immigration hardliners on his staff. But paired with early opposition from some on the right, it underscores how difficult it will be to get people on board with the agreement.
Immigration deals in the past have been killed off by outside groups, and there have been some notable moments in this year’s debate where individual lawmakers have moved from their positions.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), for example, turned heads when he said during the three-day government shutdown he could agree to money for the wall in exchange for DACA protections. Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader, also offered a wall for DACA deal to Trump.
Schumer, however, came under heavy criticism from the left over the shutdown, which liberals thought was mishandled. He then said he was rescinding his earlier offer, underlining the influence progressives inside and outside the Capitol will have in the weeks going forward.
The question of what Trump really wants on immigration has long been a challenge for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Just before the shutdown, McConnell said he would bring an immigration bill to the floor “as soon as we figure out what he is for,” referring to Trump. Until then, he said the Senate would just be spinning its wheels.
Trump confused lawmakers at the beginning of the month when he invited key lawmakers to a roundtable discussion and talked of wanting to get a deal. Trump even said he’d sign what ever lawmakers brought him, and at one point seemed to be confused over what a “clean” DACA bill might look like.
Days later, Trump shocked Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) with strident talk at another White House meeting, saying he didn’t want the United States to accept more immigrants from “shithole” countries such as Haiti.
The turnabout contributed to the sense on Capitol Hill that Trump’s positions can turn on a dime.
The White House’s rollout of a proposal on Thursday, which is expected to be formalized Monday, is aimed at offering reassurances.
But it’s unlikely to completely assuage doubts in both parties that the president might change his mind again.