WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump urged linking a Republican bill to cut legal immigration to the United States with a measure protecting immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, said a U.S. lawmaker who attended a White House meeting on Wednesday.
Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar recounted the meeting he and several other lawmakers attended at the White House, saying Trump expressed support for protecting the estimated 800,000 "Dreamers" who have avoided the threat of deportation under a program instituted by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump rescinded that order, saying it exceeded presidential powers, but has given Congress six months to come up with a legislative replacement.
As part of that effort, Cuellar said the Republican president urged lawmakers to consider legislation by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue capping legal immigration at lower levels, an idea many Democrats oppose.
"He (Trump) said: 'I'm sure you guys can work out some of the differences.' He looked at me and said: 'You should sit down with Tom Cotton,'" Cuellar said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the details of the meeting.
Democrats and some Republicans have long pushed for legislation to shield Dreamers from deportation, give them the ability to work legally in the United States and eventually become citizens. A current version of the legislation is called the "Dream Act."
"We said we need to have the Dream Act and he (Trump) said: 'Yes,' Cuellar said.
Cuellar added that Trump also said that new border security provisions needed to be part of the immigration legislation, but that the president would not insist that funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall be included in the package.
Trump campaigned last year on a promise to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants and control drug trafficking and pledged that Mexico would pay for the edifice. Mexico has refused to pay.
Cuellar, who represents a border district in Texas, said that Trump added: "'We'll put the wall (funding) on another bill.'"
There is weak support, even among Republicans in Congress, for a border wall, although lawmakers from both parties have said various other types of enhanced border security could be acceptable.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)