WASHNGTON - President Donald Trump declared Tuesday he wants Congress to pass a "bill of love" to protect younger undocumented immigrants from deportation, but he reiterated his demands for a border wall and cuts to legal immigration that Democrats have opposed.
Ahead of a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers at the White House, Trump challenged them to "put country before party" in his push to tighten border-control laws in exchange for providing legal status to immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, a group known as "dreamers."
"I really do believe Democrat and Republican, the people sitting in this room, really want to get something done," Trump said.
Lawmakers in both parties have said they are waiting for the Trump White House to specify its demands before the negotiations can move forward. But at the meeting, Trump insisted he would support any deal that negotiators in Congress agree on.
"My position is going to be what the people in this room come up with," he said. "I have a lot of respect for people on both sides. What I approve will be very much reliant on what people in this room come to me with. If they come to me with things not in love with I'm going to do it."
Lawmakers are facing a March 5 deadline, set by Trump, before the bulk of nearly 700,000 work permits issued to the dreamers under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program begin to expire in bulk. Trump terminated the program in September but gave lawmakers six months to develop a legislative solution.
But negotiators have been at an impasse over how to proceed. Democrats and some moderate Republicans are eying a Jan. 19 deadline for a must-pass government spending deal as leverage to get a deal done on DACA. But the talks are deadlocked over Trump's demands for the wall and cuts to legal immigration, including ending a diversity visa lottery and ending what the president calls "chain migration," the practice of Americans sponsoring extended family members for green cards.
Democrats have balked at accepting major new border security provisions, saying the administration's call for $18 billion in funding for hundreds of miles of a border wall is costly and unnecessary at a time when illegal immigration levels have plummeted.
"Lives are hanging in the balance. We've got the time to do it," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., an original sponsor of legislation to legalize dreamers, said in the meeting with Trump.
At one point, Trump appeared to agree with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said Democrats are seeking a "clean" DACA bill without additional border security provisions. House Majority Leaders Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., then added quickly that Republicans want security included.
Trump also said he hoped to pursue a "comprehensive" immigration bill after lawmakers strike a deal on the dreamers. Comprehensive bills under former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush failed on Capitol Hill.