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Trump proposes immigration plan favoring skills over family

The plan does not address the fate of immigrant youth known as "Dreamers," living in the country with provisional legal status.

President Donald Trump unveiled his new immigration plan Thursday that would give preferential treatment to high-skilled, "totally brilliant" immigrants. It would also require immigrants to speak English and pass a civics exam prior to admission. (May 16) (Credit: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump outlined on Thursday the framework for a new immigration plan that aims to move the nation’s visa system to a points-based  plan favoring applicants with degrees and in-demand skill sets, while reducing the number of those granted entry via family reunification visas.

The president, speaking in a Rose Garden ceremony to unveil what he called a “pro-American immigration policy,” said his proposal also would establish a border security trust fund, paid for by fees collected at U.S. ports of entry, and would seek to overhaul the asylum process amid an influx of asylum-seekers fleeing poverty and gang-violence in Central America.

“We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first,” Trump said of his plan, adding that it proposes doling out "more points for being a younger worker, meaning you will contribute more to our social safety net. You will get more points for having a valuable skill, an offer of employment, an advanced education, or a plan to create jobs." 

Trump’s latest attempt to bring forth a sweeping immigration plan, following previous failed efforts, comes as he once again looks to make immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

The president said the plan would present “a clear contrast” between his immigration agenda and that of Democrats, who widely decried the plan on Thursday.

“If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency,” Trump said. “One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-American immigration policy.”

The proposal, crafted largely by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner and the president’s point person on immigration policy, also would mandate English proficiency and require applicants to take a civics exam. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the proposal faces dim prospects in garnering the bipartisan support needed to pass the 60-vote threshold in the Republican-led Senate and through the Democratic-majority House.

Republican lawmakers, briefed on the plan over the past week, have reportedly raised concerns that the plan lacks specifics and would be unlikely to attract support from congressional Democrats. Democrats raised concerns on Thursday that the plan does not address the fate of immigrant youth known as “Dreamers,” who are living in the country with provisional legal status granted under the Obama administration.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking to reporters before Trump’s event, said the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — or DACA — was “left out on purpose” because the issue is “a divisive thing.” In 2017, Trump ordered the program be rescinded, but the courts have temporarily upheld  it pending the outcome of various federal lawsuits filed to block Trump’s removal of the program.

Congressional Democrats piled on criticism of Trump’s proposal, while moderate Republicans cast doubt the plan would go anywhere before the 2020 election.

"I don't see that the will is there to do it. I commend the White House and the President for what I think is going to end up to be sort of a broad outline of things that are important, but I'm unfortunately pessimistic as to what the future holds," Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-West Virginia) told CNN. "I just think both sides are going to have a hard time getting together on this."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the plan “an insult to our grand tradition of welcoming immigrants from all walks of life.”

“It repackages the same partisan, radical anti-immigrant policies that the administration has pushed for the two years – all of which have struggled to earn even a simple majority in the Senate, let alone 60 votes,” Schumer said in a Senate floor speech.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), described the plan’s focus on merit as “condescending.”

“It is really a condescending word. They’re saying family is without merit?," Pelosi told reporters. "Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree?"

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