White House threatens veto for immigration plan DHS says would create 'sanctuary nation'

The Trump administration is fighting to torpedo a bipartisan immigration plan that Homeland Security officials say would create a “sanctuary nation,” threatening a veto ahead of a Senate showdown where dueling plans could soon get a vote.

On Twitter Thursday afternoon, President Trump called the plan a “total catastrophe,” urging lawmakers to back another proposal authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

A blistering statement from DHS warned the plan would mean the “end of immigration enforcement in America.”

“The changes proposed by Senators Schumer-Rounds-Collins would effectively make the United States a Sanctuary Nation where ignoring the rule of law is encouraged,” the department said in a statement late Wednesday.

That statement was in response to the bipartisan agreement, drawn up by a “Gang of 22” led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, which would grant a 10-12 year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who arrived in the country as children, some of whom were protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program . That program is poised to expire in March -- though court battles could delay that -- after action by Trump.

The president says he wants to help DACA recipients but expects other border security and reform measures to be included.

The bill in question looks to assuage conservative concerns by preventing those illegal immigrants from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, though they could gain it via other pathways. The legislation also would provide $25 billion for a border wall and other border security measures.

However, it would dole the money out over 10 years and lacks most of the limits Trump is seeking on legal immigration.

It is one of several plans that soon could be considered in the Senate as senators look to strike a deal. Procedural votes could be held as early as Thursday afternoon. 

"Our proposal would represent the most significant change to immigration law in the past thirty-five years," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, who has supported a number of doomed immigration proposals, said Thursday.

"We've reached a deal that gives us the best chance to protect Dreamers against deportation from the only country they know as home," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said.

But the White House said ahead of the votes that it would veto the legislation, claiming it would weaken border security and undercut existing law -- naming specifically a measure protecting illegal immigrants who arrived before January.

“The Administration is committed to finding a permanent, fair, and legal solution for DACA,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “But this Amendment would only compound the problem by encouraging millions of additional minors to be smuggled into the United States.  We need to solve the problem, not perpetuate it indefinitely.”

The DHS, in its statement, said the bill would mark “the end of immigration enforcement in America and only serve to draw millions more illegal aliens with no way to remove them.”

While the legislation would fulfill some of Trump’s demands, such as the $25 billion for border security, it falls short of the “four pillars” that Trump said needed to be fulfilled for him to sign immigration legislation.

The statement claims that the amendment would limit DHS to only removing criminal aliens and national security threats who have arrived after June 2018 (Collins later clarified that that date would be pushed back to January as it has "caused confusion"), and fails to address loopholes that prevent deportation and removal -- perpetuating so-called “catch and release.”

On the subject of DACA, DHS claims that it would in fact give citizenship to 3 million illegal immigrants, with many eligibility requirements able to be waived, as well as expand the pool to immigrants who came to the U.S. recently or are “decidedly not children.”

The administration also objected to the bill’s failure to address so-called “chain migration” -- by which immigrants can sponsor a broad number of relatives to come join them in the U.S. Trump has said that he wants to limit sponsorship to children and spouses. It claimed that by leaving such a system in place, it could increase the number legalized to as many as 10 million.

The bill also would not end the visa lottery system, which allows 55,000 immigrants into the country each year and has been dogged by accusations of fraud and abuse.

Graham reacted angrily to the statement, calling it “politically poisonous” and telling reporters that DHS should be more grateful and say “thank you.”

“Every time someone comes up with idea to give you $25 billion, you should say thank you. The DHS press release is over the top. It’s politically poisonous. It’s ridiculous and I’ve long since stopped paying attention to them,” he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has accused Trump of trying to spike an immigration deal.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has accused Trump of trying to spike an immigration deal. (AP)

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, accused Trump on the Senate floor of trying to spike the deal.

“Why? Because it isn’t 100 percent of what the president wants on immigration? That’s not how our democracy works – you don’t get 100% of what you want in a democracy,” he said. “Maybe in a dictatorship.”

Trump, however, appeared to be pushing lawmakers to find an alternative compromise -- urging them to consider a system of “Merit Based Immigration.”

The bipartisan amendment is one of four likely to be considered in the coming hours. A more conservative plan, authored by Grassley and backed by the president, is likely to be last in the line of votes. This could give Republicans the advantage by forcing Republicans and moderate Democrats facing tough re-elections to get behind it after all the other plans have failed.

Also on the table is a plan by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., also opposed by the White House, which would allow DACA recipients to qualify for permanent residency while directing agencies to control the border by 2020. But it does not offer a pathway to citizenship or more money for border security or make significant changes to immigration rules.

Another vote is likely on a proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would block federal grants to sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with federal authorities on illegal immigration.

Fox News’ Griff Jenkins, Chad Pergram, Jenny Buchholz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.