WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump met on Tuesday with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in an uphill search for an election-year compromise on protecting thousands of young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Trump and his fellow Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress, seem far from an agreement with Democrats as they gird for midterm congressional elections in November. Trump says he wants any immigration deal to include funding for a border wall with Mexico and a tightening of immigration restrictions. ?We are going to build the wall,? Trump said in a speech on Monday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Democrats want a deal to help the estimated 700,000 young ?Dreamer? immigrants, whose protection from potential deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program ends in early March.
But, under pressure from immigrant groups, they are reluctant to give ground to Trump on the issue of the wall - his central promise from the 2016 presidential campaign. ?There have been some discussions but our position is clear and their position is somewhat clear. We want to drill down and see if there is some room for negotiations,? a White House official said.
Top congressional leaders are not expected to attend Tuesday?s meeting. Instead, the guest list is set to include lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat.
Nancy Pelosi, head of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, indicated she did not expect much progress from the meeting.
?I would have more faith in the meeting if they would have people going who really knew the issue from our side,? she said, adding she was not criticizing Durbin.
Many of the Dreamers are from Mexico and Central America and have spent most of their lives in the United States, attending school and participating in society.
Trump put their fate in doubt in early September when he announced he was ending former President Barack Obama?s DACA program, which allowed them to legally live and work in the United States temporarily.
U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who will attend the meeting, said he remained ?hopeful? that something could be worked out but differences remained.
?DACA is very important to us and at the same time so is border security,? he told CNN. ?But there are some people that feel that the only way you?re going to have border security is to have a wall.?
Trump, under pressure from some conservatives, has said any DACA deal with Democrats must include ending ?chain migration,? which could jeopardize the parents of Dreamers who are still in the United States illegally, and a visa lottery program.
Some House Republicans want to use Dreamer legislation to add more funds for immigration enforcement, which advocacy groups fear would be used to go after the relatives of the young immigrants.
U.S. Representative Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican who planned to attend, said Democrats needed to be ?more open? to Republican requests on border security and DACA.
?These are reasonable requests,? she said. ?And it seems the Democrats are just digging in.?
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican, said the session would not simply consist of lawmakers presenting Trump with a plan for him to reject or accept.
?It?s less us coming up with something and getting a yes or no from the president, but having the administration actively engaged in it,? Tillis told Reuters, adding, ?and the president is.?