President Trump revealed a new immigration proposal on Thursday afternoon. In a speech in the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced his plan to boost “merit-based” immigration, which he says would “transform America’s immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world.”
His plan focused mostly on legal immigration, with no provisions for undocumented migrants already in the country or Dreamers.
Currently, our immigration system favors migrants with family already in the U.S. and allots a minority of visas – around 12 percent – to immigrants with higher education or special workforce skills. Trump’s proposal would increase that 12 percent to 57 percent and decrease family visas from 66 to 33 percent. Applicants would be required to speak English and pass a civics test. Preference would be given to younger, financially stable applicants entering the country with an existing offer of employment.
Under Trump’s proposal, family-based migration would be limited to the nuclear family, so that spouses and minor children would still be given high priority. Extended family members, however, would not qualify.
Trump also addressed asylum, saying that “legitimate” asylum-seekers would “quickly be admitted,” but those with “frivolous” claims would “promptly be returned home.” The president did not expand on what might constitute a “frivolous” claim for asylum. The percentage of total visas provided for humanitarian purposes would decrease from 22 to 10 percent.
“Like Canada and so many other modern countries, we will create an easy-to-navigate points-based system,” said Trump. Unlike Canada, however, Trump made no commitment to resettle thousands of refugees.
The plan is unlikely to garner bipartisan support. Democrats probably will not support any immigration plan that does not discuss young people covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump’s plan does not include DACA for a reason.
“Every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan and it’s included DACA, it’s failed. It’s a divisive thing. Certainly something to discuss and look at and address, but this plan is focused on a different part of fixing the immigration system, and we’d like people to not reject it before they even sit down and really learn about it. That’s one of the things that divides people very quickly and was left out on purpose for that reason,” said Sanders Thursday morning.
Another point of contention for the Democrats is the plan’s insistence on physical infrastructure, including a provision for Trump’s infamous border wall.
The proposal has received criticism on other fronts. The Southern Poverty Law Center described the English-language requirement as “deeply at odds with our nation’s values and diversity” and the proposal in its entirety as “anti-American.” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the policy an “attack on immigrant families” based in “an elitist belief that this country is only for the wealthy.”
There is criticism from the right, too, because the policy does not restrict legal immigration. “As a starting point, it’s not acceptable,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.
Trump’s proposal comes a day after Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s staunchest allies, unveiled his own plan on immigration. Graham’s proposal, unlike Trump’s, attempts to decrease immigration at the southern border rather than augmenting the type of immigrant who can enter the country. “The White House’s plan is not designed to become law. This is designed to become law,” said Graham, referring to his own proposal.
Although both critics and supporters acknowledge that Trump’s plan is likely to fail, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling it “dead on arrival,” one senior administration official said that the plan is simply intended to unite Republicans. “We want to show the country that Republicans are not against immigrants,” said the official.
Provided they are the right kind of immigrant, of course.
Aditi Kharod is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.