White House Calls Immigration System Risky as Funding Deadline Looms -- Update

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The White House said Tuesday that the current immigration system poses security risks to the U.S., as lawmakers returned to Washington to restart negotiations on immigration and government spending following the holiday weekend.

A possible government shutdown looms at week's end, when the current spending resolution runs out. Several Democrats have said they would withhold support for any funding deal that doesn't also protect from deportation young immigrants dubbed Dreamers.

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Congressional aides say they are expecting another short-term deal, which would fund the government for a few weeks at current levels, to come to the table, but they caution that is by no means guaranteed. Aides said the prospects for any immigration deal had diminished after senators last week said President Donald Trump told lawmakers in a meeting that he wanted to stop immigration from "shithole countries."

Mr. Trump has denied having said that, and in a congressional hearing Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she didn't hear the president use that term in the meeting, saying only that he used "tough language." The comments came after a bipartisan group of senators had announced a deal on immigration that was met with opposition from conservative lawmakers and some in the White House.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump again talked up his plan for a wall along the border with Mexico. He also expressed his desire for a purely merit-based immigration system that would end a visa lottery, which makes 50,000 people from underrepresented countries eligible to come to the U.S. each year.

"We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs," said Mr. Trump in morning tweets. "No more dangerous Lottery."

The Trump administration issued a report Tuesday saying that nearly three-quarters of those convicted of terrorism-related charges in the U.S. since 2001 have been foreign-born. A senior administration official said that supports the administration's argument that the current family-based system, in which immigrants can sponsor relatives to be admitted, as well as the lottery program should end.

Still, the report cited less than a dozen cases that appeared to be linked to either of those policies. The official declined to say what percentage of the 549 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges had arrived as part of either program.

GOP and Democratic leaders had engaged with the White House last week on a deal on federal spending that would bring Democratic support to prevent a government shutdown and include protections for Dreamers, who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children. It also could include enhanced border-security measures, a White House priority. Absent a spending bill, the federal government would shut nonemergency functions starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m. EST.

Mr. Trump has demanded that an agreement on Dreamers include some version of his border wall, as well as new limits on the rights of U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor family members for immigration. He also wants limits on the visa lottery.

Democrats say they would keep up pressure this week to withhold support for a funding deal that doesn't contain legislation on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which covers the young immigrants. Republican leaders and the White House say they want an immigration deal to be separate from a spending deal.

Meanwhile, Republicans are fighting for an increase in military spending, working on a two-year deal that would not only prevent the budget limits known as the sequester from kicking in but potentially raise spending beyond that.

Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass spending bills in the Senate and possibly the House, say spending levels for domestic programs should be increased on parity with military spending.

House GOP leaders spent the weekend at a planning conference and will meet with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday night to discuss the spending negotiations, a senior GOP aide said.

Some congressional aides now say a likely outcome is another short-term spending bill that pushes the deadline out until around mid-February. Congress passed two short-term spending bills in December.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, suggested that his group would likely go along with that idea if it had no other way to avert a government shutdown. Extending the deadline would require what is known as a continuing resolution.

Congress set spending levels as part of an agreement reached at the end of a 2011 fight over raising the government's borrowing limit. That agreement was designed to set in motion 10 years of fiscal austerity, including across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, but Congress has twice reached two-year budget deals raising the spending caps.

The last two-year agreement ended in September. Since then, lawmakers have opted to extend the government's funding at those levels in a series of short-term spending bills.

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

The White House said Tuesday that the current immigration system poses security risks to the U.S., as lawmakers returned to Washington to restart negotiations on immigration and government spending following the holiday weekend.

A possible government shutdown looms at week's end, when the current spending resolution runs out. Several Democrats have said they would withhold support for any funding deal that doesn't also protect from deportation young immigrants dubbed Dreamers.

Congressional aides say they are expecting another short-term deal, which would fund the government for a few weeks at current levels, to come to the table, but they caution that is by no means guaranteed. Aides said the prospects for any immigration deal had diminished after senators last week said President Donald Trump told lawmakers in a meeting that he wanted to stop immigration from "shithole countries."

Mr. Trump has denied having said that. Under questioning from several Senate Democrats at a hearing on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she didn't hear the president use that term in the meeting, saying only that he used "tough language."

The Trump comments came after a bipartisan group of senators had announced a deal on immigration that was met with opposition from conservative lawmakers and some in the White House.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who was also in the Trump meeting last Thursday, asked Ms. Nielsen her if she recalled Mr. Trump saying, "I want more Europeans. Why can't we have more immigrants from Norway?"

Ms. Nielsen said the president was trying to express his preference for a strictly merit-based system rather than the diversity visa lottery now in place. That system makes 50,000 people from underrepresented countries eligible to come to the U.S. each year.

In tweets Tuesday, Mr. Trump addressed the lottery and talked up his plan for a wall along the border with Mexico.

"We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs," said Mr. Trump in morning tweets. He also called the lottery system "dangerous."

The Trump administration issued a report Tuesday saying that nearly three-quarters of those convicted of terrorism-related charges in the U.S. since 2001 have been foreign-born. A senior administration official said that supports the administration's argument that the current family-based system, in which immigrants can sponsor relatives to be admitted, as well as the lottery program should end.

Still, the report cited less than a dozen cases that appeared to be linked to either of those policies. The official declined to say what percentage of the 549 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges had arrived as part of either program.

GOP and Democratic leaders had engaged with the White House last week on a deal on federal spending that would bring Democratic support to prevent a government shutdown and include protections for Dreamers, who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children. It also could include enhanced border-security measures, a White House priority. Absent a spending bill, the federal government would shut nonemergency functions starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m. EST.

Mr. Trump has expressed sympathy for the Dreamers but has demanded that an agreement on the group include some version of his border wall, as well as new limits on the rights of U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor family members for immigration. He also wants limits on the visa lottery.

Democrats say they would keep up pressure this week to withhold support for a funding deal that doesn't contain legislation on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which covers the young immigrants. Mr. Trump ended that program last year and said it was up to Congress to intervene with a legislative fix.

Under that plan, starting March 5, large numbers of Dreamers would lose their protections. But in a court ruling late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup temporarily blocked the ending of the DACA program, following a legal challenge from the state of California.

Republican leaders and the White House say they want an immigration deal to be separate from a spending deal.

Meanwhile, Republicans are fighting for an increase in military spending, working on a two-year deal that would not only prevent the budget limits known as the sequester from kicking in but potentially raise spending beyond that.

Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass spending bills in the Senate and possibly the House, say spending levels for domestic programs should be increased on par with military spending.

House GOP leaders spent the weekend at a planning conference and will meet with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday night to discuss the spending negotiations, a senior GOP aide said.

Some congressional aides now say a likely outcome is another short-term spending bill that pushes the deadline out until around mid-February. Congress passed two short-term spending bills in December.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, suggested that his group would likely go along with that idea if it had no other way to avert a government shutdown. Extending the deadline would require what is known as a continuing resolution.

Congress set spending levels as part of an agreement reached at the end of a 2011 fight over raising the government's borrowing limit. That agreement was designed to set in motion 10 years of fiscal austerity, including across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, but Congress has twice reached two-year budget deals raising the spending caps.

The last two-year agreement ended in September. Since then, lawmakers have opted to extend the government's funding at those levels in a series of short-term spending bills.

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 16, 2018 14:13 ET (19:13 GMT)

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