President Trump has started a new push for legislation to crack down on illegal immigration and make it more difficult to obtain refuge in the United States, White House officials said Monday, arguing that lax laws have drawn a flood of migrants to the country’s borders.
The proposals include toughening laws to make it more difficult to apply for or be granted asylum in the United States, stripping protections for children coming illegally without their parents so they can be turned back at the border or rapidly removed, and permitting families to be detained for longer periods while they await decisions from immigration authorities about their fates.
While the steps have long been advocated by Mr. Trump’s hard-line aides, including Stephen Miller, his senior policy adviser, focusing on them now opens a new front in the president’s push for immigration restrictions.
There is no witness of an overall increase in people crossing the southern border with Mexico illegally — in fact, the president has often boasted that the number has dropped since he took office, in part because of his administration’s policies. But Mr. Trump’s renewed legislative effort is a return to the hard-line anti-immigration themes that animated his campaign and much of his presidency at a time when he is facing a backlash from some disenchanted conservatives for signing a $1.3 trillion spending bill that did not include funding for his border wall.
“As ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not simply allow us to send those crossing our Southern Border back where they came from,” Mr. Trump said in a posting on Twitter on Monday evening imploring, “ACT CONGRESS,” hours after administration and White House officials announced the legislative effort.
“A whole massive wasted process must take place,” Mr. Trump added. “Mexico & Canada have tough immigration laws, whereas ours are an Obama joke.”
The message capped a second consecutive day of presidential tweeting on immigration policy that was touched off on Sunday morning when Mr. Trump began venting about “dangerous caravans” of migrants he said were headed to the United States.
Mr. Trump continued the tirade on Twitter and at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, tying the issue to DACA, the program that permits undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to apply for deportation reprieves and work permits, which he moved to shut down last fall.
DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, “is dead,” Mr. Trump said in one tweet, which seemed to signal he was abandoning any efforts to forge the bipartisan deal he has repeatedly said he wanted to protect a sympathetic group of immigrants he has called “incredible kids.”
“DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon,” Mr. Trump said. In fact, the program applies only to immigrants who came in the United States before 2007.
Later, surrounded by children on the South Lawn of the White House for the annual Easter egg roll festivities, Mr. Trump again put the blame on Democrats, who he said had abandoned the “Dreamers,” as the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have benefited from DACA are sometimes called.
“The Democrats have really let them down, they’ve really let them down,” Mr. Trump said in response to a question shouted by a reporter, as young children crowded around him at a picnic table where he was signing their artwork. “They had this great opportunity, and Democrats have really let them down — it’s a shame.”
“Now people are taking benefit of DACA,” Mr. Trump went on. “It should have never happened.”
The president was venting about the failure of bipartisan talks to enshrine DACA’s protections in law. The negotiations became necessary after Mr. Trump moved last fall to end the program, which had been created unilaterally by President Barack Obama.
Those deliberations have gone nowhere despite Mr. Trump’s stated willingness to provide a path to citizenship for nearly two million undocumented immigrants who could be considered eligible for the program. Democrats offered last month to provide $25 billion for the border wall that Mr. Trump advocates, in exchange for such an extension, but White House officials rejected the deal, demanding additional measures to curb legal and illegal immigration.
Democrats said Monday he was deliberately misrepresenting the issue.
“Instead of working productively to find a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, the president is attempting to rewrite history with a dangerous, anti-immigrant gaslighting campaign aimed at confusing the American people, slandering the DACA program and disparaging asylum seekers,” said Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, Democrat of New Mexico and the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
But Mr. Trump’s advisers said that in referring to people “taking advantage of DACA,” the president was alluding to Central American migrants who have been duped by human smugglers into making a dangerous trek north in the belief they could enter the United States before lawmakers enact permissive new laws.
The notion has taken hold, they said, during a season when migration flows from Central America to the United States typically accelerate.
In a conference call on Monday afternoon — convened in part to explain the context of Mr. Trump’s tweets — administration and White House officials said they were pushing for changes to so-called catch-and-release policies that essentially mandate that many people who are detained arriving illegally in the United States be released from custody while awaiting a decision on whether they can stay.
They called for changing a law that affords broad protections to children illegally entering the United States alone who are not from Canada and Mexico, so that they could be promptly removed as long as it is determined that they are not victims of human trafficking.
Mr. Obama’s administration argued that the measure, enacted at the end of the Bush administration as a way to combat child sex trafficking, had tied its hands in dealing with a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America beginning in 2013.
Another senior official outlined modifications Mr. Trump wants to see in asylum policies to limit the number of people claiming to be political refugees who can apply for protection in the United States.
Among the changes would be making it more difficult for asylum seekers to demonstrate “credible fear” about returning to their home countries before they are given a chance to stay in the United States and adding more reasons — such as membership in a gang or drunken driving accusations — that asylum seekers could be deemed inadmissible.
A senior administration official who detailed the asylum changes said they were meant in part to address a backlog of hundreds of thousands of immigration court cases that can delay hearings for years, permitting undocumented immigrants to be released for long periods and to live legally in the United States while they await decisions on their cases.
As part of that effort, the Justice Department told immigration judges on Monday that it would impose new quotas on their work, requiring them to complete 700 cases each year in an effort to speed deportation decisions and eliminate the backlog. That is a slight increase from the average of 678 cases a year the judges completed from 2011 to 2016.
Monday’s briefing also suggested that Mr. Trump’s yearlong quest to find a politically palatable solution to the DACA conundrum — which he has often presented as a moral dilemma — is viewed by some of his advisers as a risky gambit that would be justified only with the most restrictive of conditions.
One senior White House official said that even a debate in Congress over granting a “generous immigration benefit” such as DACA creates a “major pull factor” for new waves of illegal immigrants.
In February, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security lashed out against a bipartisan proposal to codify DACA protections, arguing it they would have eviscerated immigration enforcement for people arriving in the United States before June 2018.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, briefed Mr. Trump on the migration situation last week after returning from a trip to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto and other top Mexican officials, one White House official said, and he was concerned by what he heard.
That was one reason Mr. Trump spent part of his Easter Sunday complaining on Twitter about “caravans” of immigrants heading north toward the United States-Mexico border, the official said. The posts also came after Fox News Channel, the president’s favorite, reported on a group of hundreds of Central Americans that has been traveling through Mexico toward the United States, where some hope to seek asylum or sneak across the border.
Immigration advocacy groups dismissed Mr. Trump’s latest moves as a play to his core supporters that would ultimately backfire for his party, driving away voters.
“When Trump plays to his base with his xenophobia and bigotry, it drives away tolerant suburban voters, threatens America’s perishable crop industry and energizes young people and voters of color,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice.