Washington — US President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders in the US congress have agreed to work together on legislation to protect Dreamers, the illegal immigrants who were children when they entered the US, legislators said on Wednesday, although a dispute erupted over exactly what had been agreed.
Following a dinner with Trump at the White House, senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and house of representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the "productive meeting" focused on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a programme established by former president Barack Obama.
"We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides," Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement.
All year, Democrats have insisted they will block any legislation that contains funding for a wall along the length of the US border with Mexico, a top Trump campaign goal that many Republicans in congress also do not support.
While White House officials have suggested legislation on DACA could move forward without wall funding, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the characterisation that a deal had been reached to leave it out of any legislation focused on the Dreamers. "While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to," she said on Twitter.
Throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and since taking office in January, Trump has demanded the construction of a wall to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs. He initially said Mexico would pay for the wall but has requested money from the congress after the government of Mexico refused to pay.
The dinner was the latest effort in a new initiative by Trump to work with opposition party Democrats on major legislation. Following the dinner, a White House official said the president, Schumer and Pelosi discussed tax reform, immigration, border security, infrastructure investments and trade as part of Trump’s bid to reach out to Democrats. "The administration looks forward to continuing these conversations with leadership on both sides of the aisle," the official said.
Over dinner, Trump and the Democratic leaders also discussed issues related to US-China trade, according to a congressional aide briefed on the meeting. Schumer and Pelosi also said they urged Trump to make government subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, permanent. "These discussions will continue," the lawmakers said.
Trump and most Republicans in congress have demanded the repeal of Obamacare, but have been unable to agree on a replacement for the healthcare programme that became law in 2010.
Using his executive powers, Trump canceled Obama’s DACA programme in which about 800,000 undocumented young people have escaped the threat of deportation and been able to apply for work permits in the US. Trump argued that Obama over-stepped his authority in creating the programme and has given congress six months to come up with a replacement programme in the form of legislation to be enacted into law.
Democratic representative Henry Cuellar, who attended a White House meeting with Trump earlier on Wednesday, told reporters the president said he would not insist on wall funding as part of a Dreamers bill, but would pursue it in other, future legislation. Cuellar said Trump urged lawmakers to link a Republican bill to cut legal immigration to the US with protections for Dreamers, but many Democrats oppose lowering the cap on annual legal immigration.