With an eye on political moderates, President Donald Trump has offered to bargain temporary status for nearly a million illegal immigrants for the $5.7 million he wants in the budget for his border wall, but the deal to end the partial government shutdown was shot down by the Democratic Party leadership.
After swearing-in a group of immigrants as citizens at the Oval Office on Saturday, he said he would give a three-year reprieve from deportation for 700,000 young people who were brought into the US as children and 300,000 illegal immigrants from Nepal and certain other countries that have faced natural disasters or violent upheavals.
He also promised to pursue immigration reforms after the shutdown crisis was resolved and hold weekly bipartisan meetings to fashion “a great product, a product we can be proud of”.
Democrat leaders have ruled out any compromise and insist on an end to the shutdown before there can be negotiations.
Even before he spoke, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected any proposal he would make saying they would be a “non-starter”.
The Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the proposals “ineffective and one-sided” and accused him of taking the one million as hostages.
The government remained paralyzed except for its vital functions as the partial government shutdown that entered its 30th day on Sunday with most government employees going without their paychecks since January 11 and nearly 800,000 of them on temporary layoff.
Trump has demanded that the budget should include $5.7 billion for his border barrier, which the Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have refused. Because of the stalemate, there is no budget and no money for most government operations.
His first formal offer of concessions was aimed at the moderates in both parties who were looking for a path to compromise.
“It is time to reclaim our future from the extreme voices who fear compromise and demand open borders,” he said.
Some in his own party have also opposed his proposal citing the offer to extend temporary protection to some illegal immigrants.
Trump offered a scaled-down vision of the border wall that he had promised in his election campaign, saying, “This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high priority locations.”
Temporary permission to say legally in the US that was given to the 700,000 young people, dubbed “Dreamers” for their pursuit of the American Dream, expired in March and the Trump administration did not renew it.
Another program to allow people from certain countries affected by violence or natural calamities like the Nepal earthquake to stay on in the US is not being renewed.
Democrats said that since Trump had ended these programs offering to reinstate them was not a compromise. “Offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage-taking,” Schumer said.
Trump also said that he would introduce a system for people to apply for asylum in their Central American home countries, instead of coming to the border and either applying for asylum or entering the US illegally.
About 7,000 Central Americans who came in a caravan through Mexico are camped in squalor at the border trying to enter US, straining the resources of their host towns and another caravan is on its way.
He described it as a “humanitarian and security crises”.
Trump cast his efforts end illegal immigration as a compassionate effort, saying it would end the exploitation of migrants, especially women and children, by the smugglers who have been known to attack and rape them.
As for the US, he said the end to illegal immigration would prevent wages being depressed, the public services being strained and criminals entering the country. He mentioned an Indian-American police Corporal Ronil Singh, who was killed the day after Christmas in California by an illegal immigrant.
He also said the border barrier would stop the drugs being smuggled across the border.
If there is a compromise, “we can start the border project of remaking our immigration system for the 21st century”, Trump said.
He has said earlier that he wants to introduce a merit-based immigration system similar to those of Canada and Australia that could benefit Indian professionals who have to wait as many as 10 years to get their green cards.
Two weeks ago, he had tweeted, that those on temporary professional H1-B visas “can rest assured that changes are soon coming” that will put them on “a potential path to citizenship”.
A master of marketing, Trump evoked the imagery of patriotism and the traditions of welcoming legal immigrants.
He went in the morning to an air force base to solemnly receive the bodies of four Americans killed by the Islamic State terrorists in Syria last week. One of the victims was a Syrian-American woman.
And just before his speech, he held a ceremony for a group of green card-holders that included a Muslim woman wearing a head cover to formally become US citizens.
On the other side, thousands participated in the Women’s March in Washington and elsewhere that protested Trump’s immigration policies in addition to demanding protection of women’s rights.