President Donald Trump unveiled his latest immigration plan, emphasizing “merit-based” immigration and increased funding for border security.
“Our plan achieves two critical goals,” Trump said at the White House Rose Garden Thursday. “First, it stops illegal immigration and fully secures the border and second it establishes a new legal immigration system that protects American wages, promotes American values, and attracts the best and brightest from all around the world.”
While Trump is selling this immigration plan in an attempt to curb illegal immigration, it doesn’t really do anything to address it. The plan would drastically reduce the number of family-based visas and green cards that allow spouses and children to live in the United States. It would also impose educational requirements such as English language proficiency and a civics test, and prioritize immigrants with a higher educational background through a points-based system.
The diversity visa lottery program, which offers green cards to citizens from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, would be eliminated.
In its place will be the “Build America visa,” which incorporates parts of Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) RAISE Act — a points-based immigration system that prioritizes younger immigrants with high paying job offers. The White House proposal doesn’t call for an overall reduction in the number of immigrants entering the country.
Trump also mentions that in order to help fund the physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a “border security trust fund” will be created and it will be financed “by the fees and revenues generated at the border crossings itself.”
The White House’s proposal was immediately met with criticism from immigration activists who say it accomplishes nothing and fails to unite either party.
“Jared Kushner’s after-school project is never going to see the light of day with both Democrats and Republicans saying it’s useless and is dead on arrival,” said Tyler Moran, Director of the Immigration Hub, in a statement. “The Rose Garden announcement of President Trump’s plan is nothing more than a straight-up 2020 campaign rally to feed red meat to his base.”
The proposal also doesn’t mention what will happen to undocumented youth currently protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that Trump unilaterally ended in late 2017 and that has been barely hanging thanks to a court injunction. Currently DACA recipients can renew their status, but no new applications can be processed. The White House said DACA protections were left out of the bill on purpose, because they are too divisive.
As noted by The New York Times, roughly half of legal immigrants are awarded family based visas while only 12% of immigrants qualify because of skill. Under this new framework proposed by Trump, those numbers would be reversed.
Another criteria the White House outlined in its proposal would be “patriotic assimilation,” meaning immigrants who have demonstrated an interest in adopting to the American culture and way of life will be prioritized for green cards.
Multiple studies have shown that merit-based immigration systems prioritize immigrants from primarily developed countries. An emphasis on “high skill” workers would also drastically reduce the number of women allowed to emigrate to the United States, as jobs primarily held by women in the hospitality and service industries would likely be undervalued. One study from the Cato Institute found that migrants who enter on family-sponsored and diversity visas are actually better educated than the U.S.-born population.
With a burgeoning labor demand in the United States, the labor provided by immigrants in industries not deemed “skilled” enough is essential.
“My read on this now is that this type of proposed system would recruit skilled engineers, but not skilled farmworkers,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told The Washington Post. “The fact is, our economy needs both.”
The plan was spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Working alongside Kushner in drafting this proposal was White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who has proposed a number of xenophobic immigration policies, including “public charge,” which would deny green cards and citizenship to immigrants who rely on public benefits.
Kushner and Miller presented the plan to Republican lawmakers this week and were met with an unenthusiastic response. Many top party officials believe the plan either isn’t extreme enough or that it will fail to earn the support of any Democrat.
One key sticking point is the absence of a plan for DACA. Approximately 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country with their parents as children — nicknamed Dreamers — have DACA, allowing them to work, study, and live in the United States without fear of deportation. A bill authorizing Dreamers to become U.S. citizens is wildly popular among the American public, with over 80% supporting a Dream Act.
The proposal also fails to address what to do with the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States, which is concerning to the president’s most ardent anti-immigrants supporters. Even Mark Krikorian, executive director of the right-wing Center for Immigration Studies, is wary of the plan, which would fail to significantly cut legal immigration.
“The package isn’t fully cooked yet,” Krikorian wrote in the conservative National Review this week. “[There’s] a fundamental problem that suggests the brain trust overseeing this effort is out of touch with the president’s base. The proposal will not include any reduction in the overall level of legal immigration, not even a symbolic one.”
Other Republicans have voiced their concerns about the White House plan, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who told reporters that she is “concerned about the fate of the DACA young people, and they cannot be excluded from any immigration package.”
This Kushner-led proposal is, at the moment, just that — a proposal. No Republican has yet to endorse it, fill out the details, draft it into a bill. Trump did not provide a concrete timeline for plan, but said if Democrats cannot pass it before the 2020 election, he will wait until the Republicans take control of the House again.
A number of other Republicans, meanwhile, have introduced immigration legislation of their own, some of which incorporates pieces of the White House proposal. Sen. Cotton’s RAISE Act has been praised by Trump in the past. While the details of the White House’s approach to a point system are lacking, the RAISE Act would create a 30-point minimum for immigrant eligibility, wherein an individual would earn points for things such as having a relatively high-paying job offer (a maximum of 13 points), English language skills (a maximum of 12 points), and being close to the age of 25 (a maximum of 10 points). The RAISE Act would cut legal immigration in half.
On Thursday Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unveiled his immigration bill, which would make dramatic changes to how the United States processes asylum cases. Under Graham’s bill, asylum seekers from Central American countries will have to apply for asylum at an American consulate in their countries of origin — defeating the purpose of asylum, which is to provide relief to vulnerable individuals fleeing imminent danger in their home country.
Graham’s bill would also extend the amount of time children can be detained from 20 days to 100 days. This news comes at the same time as a migrant toddler died at a hospital Tuesday night after being detained at the southern border — the fourth child to die in U.S. custody since December.