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Immigration lawyers decry Trump, GOP bill to reopen government

Senate to vote on competing plans to end shutdown

Washington — Immigration lawyers and advocates are denouncing President Trump's proposal to reopen the government, saying the bill includes major restrictionist changes to the nation's immigration system. 

"This bill is a Stephen Miller special," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told CBS News, referring to the White House senior adviser, who is an immigration hardliner. 

"The White House promised a bipartisan compromise that would move the action forward — and instead you get a radical, restrictionist dream led by Stephen Miller," Reichlin-Melnick added. "This is a bill that Stephen Miller would be proud to pass." 

On Saturday, the president unveiled what he billed as a "compromise" on immigration that would end the partial government shutdown. Mr. Trump said he would support legislation to extend temporary immigration protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders if Congress approves $5.7 billion in funding to construct a barrier along the southern border and bolster security. DACA shields approximately 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Immigrants with TPS are temporarily allowed to live in the U.S. because of conflict or natural disasters in their native countries.

But Reichlin-Melnick and other immigration attorneys said the more than 1,300-page legislation supported by the president and Republicans is anything but a compromise. In fact, they believe the bill would make it more difficult for unaccompanied migrant children from Central America to seek asylum in the U.S., gut several TPS programs and make it easier for the government to strip protections from DACA recipients. 

Under the proposal, unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle — composed of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — would be barred from seeking asylum near the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, the U.S. government would establish processing centers in these three Central American countries where children could apply for asylum. 

The government would have approximately eight months to establish these centers — a time period in which the asylum process for Central American children could potentially come to a halt, Reichlin-Melnick said. Additionally, the bill would lower the number of applications that could be accepted each year to 50,000. And the government would be able to approve 15,000 asylum grants. More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended near the southwestern border in fiscal year 2018, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) figures

Under current U.S. immigration law, Reichlin-Melnick noted, unaccompanied migrant minors from Central America and countries which do not border the U.S. are usually provided "heightened protection" and given a court hearing when they apply for asylum. "This is to ensure that children are not returned to a location where they fear harm and fear trafficking," he said. 

But Reichlin-Melnick said the proposed legislation would allow the government to deport migrant children from Central America without giving them the option to apply for asylum, unless immigration officers determine that it is "more probable than not" that they would be eligible for asylum or "more probable than not" that they would be trafficked in their native countries. 

"This would allow children to be sent back to their home countries if there's a 49 percent chance that they're going to be trafficked," he said. 

The bill would also fundamentally change TPS programs for El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua, which the courts have blocked the Trump administration from terminating. Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the White House's proposal would bar undocumented immigrants from being eligible for these TPS protections — a criteria which has not been in place before. "The idea that they are permanently changing the Temporary Protected Status program to make it so you have to be lawfully present unfortunately really guts the purpose of that program," Pierce told CBS News.  

The provision in the proposal to grant DACA recipients "provisional protected presence" differs from the Obama-era program which has been kept alive by the courts, attorneys said. The proposal would allow those who are currently enrolled in the program to apply for a three-year nonrenewable immigration relief. DACA permits are renewable every three years.

DACA recipients would also not be automatically protected by the proposed legislation and would need to provide the government more evidence to be approved for this new protection, which Reichlin-Melnick said would also cost more to apply to for. He added that the bill would give the government more leeway to reject applications.

"They've increased the burden of proof on applicants," Reichlin-Melnick said. 

The bill would implement a minimum income requirement for the new "provisional protected presence," as well as a "public charge" consideration. Like another proposed rule being crafted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under the "public charge" rule, the government would take into account the amount of federal assistance used by immigrants when processing change of status applications. Although DACA recipients, who are undocumented immigrants, are barred from most government welfare programs, some states like California, New York and New Jersey offer so-called DREAMers certain benefits, like in-state tuition and state financial aid for college. 

Senators are scheduled to vote on the president's proposal — as well as on the funding bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House which does not include Mr. Trump's border wall funding demand — on Thursday afternoon. Both proposals currently lack enough support to pass.