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Immigration advocates to meet with Pence on deal to protect 'Dreamers,' end shutdown

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 1/23/2019 By Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Mike Pence, Steve Scalise are posing for a picture: Vice President Mike Pence, joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, speaks to the media after a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. © Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS Vice President Mike Pence, joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, speaks to the media after a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON - The White House has invited several leading Hispanic groups to meet Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence and top adviser and President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner to see if there is a way to trade funding for Trump's border wall in exchange for protections of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents.

Trump may also "pop in" to the meeting being organized with officials from the League of United Latin American Citizens, Libre Initiative, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other immigrant advocacy groups, said people familiar with the planning.

Domingo Garcia, president of LULAC, said his organization wants to help both sides find common ground to end the shutdown. Garcia said the White House called him asking to meet. He said he plans to take a message that groups like his want a permanent solution for "Dreamers" and those with temporary protected status that includes legalization and a path to citizenship. They also want an aid package for Central America.

In exchange, they're open to a $3 billion to $6 billion border security package that focuses on a "virtual barrier," but no wall. "My goal is to get to the middle ground to end this shutdown," he said, adding later, "This gridlock helps no one."

TPS is a status granted to immigrants who can't return to their home country because of a natural disaster or significant emergency. Thousands of Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans are in the United States with temporary protected status.

On Saturday, Trump spoke from the Oval Office and offered Democrats a three-year extension of protections for roughly 700,000 so-called Dreamers and hundreds of thousands of more people with TPS in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and other enforcement and humanitarian assistance.

Even before Trump started speaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leaders were calling the proposal "a nonstarter" that was full of "previously rejected initiatives."

Portions of the U.S. government have been shut down for 33 days because of the disagreement over wall funding, keeping 800,000 federal employees out of work and numerous services suspended.

The meeting reflects a break in the united front between Democrats and immigration advocates against Trump's demands. Until now, immigration advocates have largely supported Pelosi and Senate leaders in their opposition of Trump's immigration policies. But Trump got their attention when he made an offer to protect roughly 1 million immigrants living in the United States under such special status.

Neither the White House nor the vice president's office immediately responded to a request for comment.

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Some advocates have questioned whether Democrats really want to reopen the government and protect a million immigrants or simply continue to fight Trump - at all costs.

"If this is real, we need to be talking," said one advocate familiar with the meeting plans. "Obviously we have certain concerns, but if Dreamers can get a permanent legal fix then we need to be at the table. We're not all behind the Pelosi-no deal. Immigrants don't have the convenience of resisting."

The meeting will come as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., keys up a vote on Trump's proposal to end the shutdown before the furloughed workers miss a second paycheck.

Not all the advocates agree and Pelosi has the support of key groups, such as United We Dream, which accused Trump "of using the lives of immigrant youth as bargaining chips."

"The White House has repeatedly used negotiations over the pain he has caused to immigrants and federal workers to demand billions more for his wall, more detention camps and mass deportation," Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director of United We Dream and herself a Dreamer, said in a statement after Trump's proposal.

Pelosi and Senate leaders say they won't negotiate while the government is shut down. Critics of Trump's plan note that the protections, which Trump eliminated, are for only three years. It would also block Central American minors from applying for asylum unless they do so in their home countries.

The immigration advocate said they're very wary of Trump's proposal, particularly asylum measures, but they say ignoring a proposal to protect Dreamers is not the answer.

"We're definitely not giving the administration a blank check," the advocate said. "We're just open to the negotiations."

Some of Trump staunchest supporters are afraid Democrats will take the deal. The proposal set off panic among key Trump supporters who accused him of abandoning his base. Some warned Trump risked repeating the mistakes of former President Ronald Reagan who in 1986 signed amnesty legislation that legalized thousands, but failed to follow through on enforcement measures.

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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