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Immigration Principles Could Create Problems for DACA Plan

The principles, according to people familiar with ongoing discussions, were expected to include elements of proposed legislation that would dramatically reduce legal immigration rates.

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    Immigration Principles Could Create Problems for DACA Plan
    AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
    Gustavo Andrade, left, and activists from United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization, leave the Senate Hart Office Building after taking their advocacy message to Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.

    The Trump administration is finalizing the details of a set of immigration principles that could upend efforts to come up with a permanent fix for the status of young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

    The principles, according to people familiar with ongoing discussions, were expected to include elements of proposed legislation that would dramatically reduce legal immigration rates. Also to be pursued was an overhaul of the green card system to prevent extended family members, including siblings and adult children, from joining permanent residents in the U.S.

    The White House was expected to endorse principles of the Davis-Oliver bill, which aims to give local law enforcement officials the power to enforce immigration laws and allow states to write their own immigration legislation. The White House was also expected to call for billions of dollars in funding for border security, more immigrant detention beds and immigration judges.

    It remained unclear whether the principles, which were expected to be announced in the coming days, would serve as a broad immigration wish-list or specific demands the White House expected in exchange for signing legislation for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

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    Under a phase-out plan announced last month by President Donald Trump, more than 150,000 young people covered by DACA whose permits were set to expire before March 5 were given the chance to submit renewals — provided they arrived by midnight Thursday.

    Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative replacement for the program. It shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of young people, many of whom were brought into the U.S. illegally as children, and allowed them to work legally in the country.

    While final numbers won't be available until next week, DHS spokesman David Lapan said that about 118,000 of the roughly 154,000 people eligible for renewals had submitted their applications by mid-day Thursday. That left 36,000 — or about 23 percent of those eligible — outstanding. Facilities processing applications were prepared to accept courier deliveries until midnight, he said.

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to discuss specifics of the immigration principles Thursday. Last month she said the list would likely include demanding an end to so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to share information with federal immigration authorities, funding for more immigration judges, and "supporting things like the RAISE Act" limiting legal immigration.

    But Ali Noorani, the executive director of the immigration advocacy group National Immigration Forum, said that, if those expectations held true, there was little chance for a DACA deal.

    "If the president winds up tying these elements to the DREAM Act," he said, Trump would wind up responsible "for deporting 800,000 young people, which pretty much nobody wants except Stephen Miller," Trump's hard-line senior policy adviser, who was working on the principles.

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    Immigration advocates spent weeks trying to publicize Thursday's DACA deadline. Earlier this week, dozens of DACA recipients traveled to Washington to try to pressure members of Congress to vote on the Dream Act, which would provide an eventual path to citizenship.

    UndocuMedia, an organization that leverages digital and social media to empower the undocumented community based in California, worked with other organizations to get the word out on DACA renewals. It now focuses on advocating for undocumented immigrants' rights.

    "The fight is not over," says, Justino Mora, co-founder of UndocuMedia.  

    Mora says the one-month deadline given by the Trump administration was not enough for some 154,000 recipients eligible for renewals, despite his best efforts in getting the word out. 

    "I feel frustrated," said Mora. "This demonstrates where the administration stands on immigration, who care very little on undocumented youth."

    UndocuMedia assisted over a thousand DACA recipients submit their application before Thursday. Mora made sure applications were "postmarked" and "physically received" by the USCIS on that day.

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    A DACA recipient himself, Mora says the next move for DACA will be to push for a "clean version" of the Dream Act that provides a path to citizenship for the children of immigrants. He is also fighting for a path to citizenship for his parents and against Trump's funding of the border wall.

    "Our parents are as deserving as we are," Mora says. "It was thanks to their sacrifice that we are here."

    Other organizations like the New York State Youth Leadership Council aim to continue the fight on DACA stressing that "every" undocumented youth matters, regardless if they have DACA, said executive director Lupe Ambrosio. 

    Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., one of the authors of the RAISE Act, said, "Democrats really want a fix on DACA, and we really want a fix on the immigration system."

    "This is a landmark opportunity to fix the DACA problem and once and for all fix the vagaries of this immigration system that really doesn't work," he said.

    But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has introduced his own immigration legislation, said it was unlikely the Senate would accept a proposal slashing legal immigration, noting that any DACA legislation will have to attract Democratic support.

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    "With the deadline we have with DACA, I think it's unrealistic to think we can do broader immigration reform like that," he said. "I don't see that happening."

    -NBC's Estefania Hernandez contributed to this story.