President Donald Trump announced a new set of immigration reform proposals on Thursday, at the White House, which would, if implemented, replace the existing green card categories with a new visa, the Build America visa.
The aim of the new Build America visa, which would dominate the allocation of one million green cards issued every year, would be to give permanent residency to more young, English-proficient, highly skilled immigrants in America, whether they are already living here – as a student or as a worker, or from overseas.
These immigrants would be selected on a merit-and-points-based system, details of which are awaited. A similar system is already in countries like Canada and Australia.
The axe would resultantly come down hard on green cards for relatives, which has been derided by Trump and other conservative Republicans in the past as ‘chain migration’.
That category of visas for extended family members like parents and siblings would see a drastic cut in the allocation of green cards, if Trump’s proposals are shaped into law.
“If adopted, our plan will transform America’s immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world. Our proposal builds upon our nation’s rich history of immigration, while strengthening the bonds of citizenship that bind us together as a national family,” said Trump, speaking on the grounds of the White House.
“Our policies have turbo-charged our economy. Now, we must implement an immigration system that will allow our citizens to prosper for generations to come,” he added.
Trump criticized the Democrats’ approach to immigration, which he said, are only allowing for “open borders, lower wages, and, frankly, lawless chaos”.
He said: “We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first, adding, “Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker. It’s just common sense. It will help all of our people, including millions of devoted immigrants, to achieve the American Dream.”
Trump began his speech on the vexatious issue of illegal immigration, proposing several measures to curtain and eliminate border crossings, before he went on to his vision for reforming legal immigration.
Trump said that currently, 66 percent of legal immigrants come to America on the basis of “random chance”.
“They’re admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States. And it doesn’t really matter who that relative is. Another 21 percent of immigrants are issued either by random lottery, or because they are fortunate enough to be selected for humanitarian relief,” he said, on the diversity visa lottery and refugees.
“Random selection is contrary to American values and blocks out many qualified potential immigrants from around the world who have much to contribute. While countless — and you wouldn’t believe how many countries, like Canada, create a clear path for top talent. America does not,” he said.
Trump said that “under the senseless rules of the current system, we’re not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world — anybody.
“We’re not able to take care of it. We’re not able to make those incredible breakthroughs. If somebody graduates top of their class from the best college, sorry, go back to your country. We want to keep them here,” he said.
“Companies are moving offices to other countries because our immigration rules prevent them from retaining highly skilled and even, if I might, totally brilliant people. We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore, once we get this passed,” he emphasized.
Trump also spoke about the fact that a lot of the skilled students after they graduate are going back home because they have no relatives to sponsor them.
“We want these exceptional students and workers to stay, and flourish, and thrive in America,” he said, to applause.
Referring to green cards given to relatives of citizens, Trump said only 12 percent of legal immigrants are selected based on skill or based on merit. In countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — and others — that number is closer to 60 and even 70 and 75 percent, in some cases, he said.
“The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 percent to 57 percent, and we’d like to even see if we can go higher. This will bring us in line with other countries and make us globally competitive,” he said.
Removing any doubts that immediate family members might face longer wait time for their green card, Trump said that spouse and children of applicants for a green card would go right to the front of the line.
“Wages are rising but our current immigration system works at cross-purposes, placing downward pressure on wages for the working class, which is what we don’t want to do,” he said.
“America’s immigration system should bring in people who will expand opportunity for striving, low-income Americans, not to compete with those low-income Americans,” he said.
“The White House plan makes no change to the number of green cards allocated each year. But instead of admitting people through random chance, we will establish simple, universal criteria for admission to the United States. No matter where in the world you’re born, no matter who your relatives are, if you want to become an American citizen, it will be clear exactly what standard we ask you to achieve. It will be made crystal clear,” he said.
Trump also emphasized on a welcome mat in the future for wannabe entrepreneurs, who want to relocate to America, or study in America and then decide to become one.
“We lose people that want to start companies, and, in many cases, they’re forced to leave our country; go back, usually, to the country where they came from; and they’ll start up companies, and some of those companies are among the biggest and most successful companies today in the world. They could’ve started them right here in the United States, where they wanted to do it in the first place. Now they’ll have a chance,” he said.
“Priority will also be given to higher-wage workers, ensuring we never undercut American labor. To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient,” he said, adding that to “promote integration, assimilation, and national unity, future immigrants will be required to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission.”
Trump’s proposals received flak from Democrats even before he delivered his speech. Top leaders made it clear that the President’s proposals, with his anti-extended family approach, would be dead on arrival in the House and Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) came down hard on the proposals, reported The Washington Post.
“Truth be told, the reported White House plan isn’t a serious attempt at immigration reform,” he said during remarks on the Senate floor. “If anything, it’s a political document that is anti-immigration reform. 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,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she favors bipartisan “comprehensive” reform and that her chamber plans to act on several fronts, including protections for dreamers.
Pelosi said she had yet to be briefed on Trump’s plan but took issue with the use of the term “merit.”
“It is really a condescending word,” she said. “Are they saying family is without merit?”
Reuters reported that the plan was developed by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller, an adviser known for his hard line on immigration issues.
“To say it’s dead on arrival would be generous,” said Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for undocumented immigrants.
The plan also does not include provisions to help farmers and other seasonal employers obtain more guest workers, or reforms for technology visa programs.
Business groups said the plan was a good first step but emphasized solutions needed to be broader and bipartisan, reported Reuters.
“It should also incorporate policies to improve access to temporary workers with skills needed in the marketplace and provide a practical solution for undocumented immigrants and those living under temporary relief from removal, including Dreamers,” the Business Roundtable – a group of chief executives from large companies – said in a statement.
A huge sticking point for bipartisan support is also that Trump didn’t include the issue of DACA in his speech, which for Democrats is key to any immigration reforms.
Trump wants to end the Obama-era sponsored DACA work permits. Democrats wants to give DACA holders – children who emigrated to the US, and are now adults – green card.
“Every single time 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,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, adding that the issue was “left out on purpose,” reports said.