Mr. Trump’s impromptu comments on Wednesday night, when he said he was open to allowing some of the young immigrants to become citizens in 10 to 12 years, were quickly followed on Thursday morning by a White House email warning of a flood of immigrants into the country and demanding an end to policies that allow families to sponsor the immigration of their immediate relatives.
And even as Mr. Trump was offering reassuring words to the Dreamers — “tell them not to worry,” he told reporters Wednesday evening — senior White House officials were emphasizing the more hard-line features of their forthcoming immigration proposal.
One senior official said the Dreamers would be given legal status so long as they were productive, law-abiding members of American society. The official said a path to citizenship was only a discussion point and would only be available to about 690,000 young immigrants who signed up for legal protections under an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Legal status would not be extended to those who were eligible for the program but failed to register, the official said.
Taken together, the dual messages from the White House are a clear outline of the administration’s endgame as Congress struggles to reach a compromise before the expiration on March 5 of the DACA program. In September, Mr. Trump ended the program and set it to expire at the beginning of March, when recipients would no longer be able to work legally in the United States and would once again face the threat of deportation.
But Democratic lawmakers and activists are vowing to resist the president’s trap — and set one of their own. They say they will refuse to accept any proposal that requires them to forsake the well-being of other immigrants, including the parents of the Dreamers, to secure the fate of the young immigrants themselves.
“We will oppose it. Most if not all Democrats will oppose it. Some Republicans will, too,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group. “We are not going to allow Stephen Miller to exploit a crisis that he and his boss created to take a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty and enact his nativist wish list.”
Mr. Sharry added, “When they get serious about a reasonable bill — Dream Act and smart border security — and get serious about making and sticking with a bipartisan deal that can pass, then and only then will there be a breakthrough.”
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators calling itself the Common Sense Coalition gathered in the office of Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to discuss the immigration issue. At issue is the scope of the bill. Some senators want to draft a narrow bill that bolsters border security and codifies protections now extended to DACA recipients, which do not include a path to citizenship. Others say the legislation should take Mr. Trump up on his offer of citizenship, but to do that, lawmakers might have to take the rest of the White House’s deal.
“Do we simply codify what DACA is and extend it out over a period of time, or do we try to go farther than that as the president is suggesting?” asked Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota. “If you do that you have to address the issue of chain migration, and that’s where it becomes a lot more complicated.”
Senators going into the office said they were encouraged by Mr. Trump’s remarks. But they indicated little appetite for the more hard-line approaches being pushed by the president’s aides.
“If you start putting all these highly charged toxic issues, it’s just not going to work,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida.
But hard-liners, apparently led by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, say the White House’s strategy needs to be considered — and that means four elements: Dreamers, border security and a wall, chain migration and an end to the diversity visa lottery.
“Everybody wants to alter reality in a way that sort of suits their needs,” Mr. Cornyn said. “But the reality is the president said there has to be four pillars. People just need to accept that and deal with it.”
Activists are betting that some moderate Republicans will not support the president’s more conservative ideas, helping to stiffen the spines of Democratic lawmakers by making the opposition to the president’s proposal bipartisan.
Senators Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Mr. Graham have been leading bipartisan talks on immigration. Their initial proposal — which did not include the president’s nativist proposals — was rejected by Mr. Trump during a White House meeting in which the president used vulgarities to describe Haitians and Africans.
On Wednesday night, Mr. Graham held a meeting with a far larger group of about 30 senators. They decided that Mr. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and Mr. Cornyn would each function as a clearinghouse for ideas on immigration from their respective parties.
“We’ve got more people in the room, which is good,” Mr. Graham said. “We’re getting more input. We’ve just got to turn it into more output.”
The so-called Twos — the No. 2 Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — have also been meeting, although their talks are stalled because the House is in recess this week.
And members of a which helped bring an end to the three-day government shutdown, have also expressed interest in branching out into immigration talks.
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