Trump pushes im­mi­gra­tion plan fa­vor­ing ‘merit’ over fam­ily

The News-Times - - NATION / WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — Un­veil­ing a new im­mi­gra­tion plan, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Tues­day he wanted to pro­vide a sharp con­trast with Democrats, and he did — aim­ing to up­end decades of fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy with a new ap­proach that fa­vors younger, “to­tally bril­liant,” high-skilled work­ers he says won’t com­pete for Amer­i­can jobs.

Trump’s sweep­ing im­mi­gra­tion plan is more a cam­paign doc­u­ment than any­thing else. It’s a White House at­tempt to stretch be­yond the “build-the­wall” rhetoric that swept the pres­i­dent to of­fice but may not be enough to de­liver him a sec­ond term. As Trump heads into re-elec­tion sea­son, his cam­paign sees the plan as a way to help him look more rea­son­able on a sig­na­ture is­sue than he of­ten seems — and to cast Democrats as block­ing him.

“We want im­mi­grants com­ing in. We cher­ish the open door,” Trump said in a Rose Gar­den speech as Cab­i­net mem­bers and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers filled the front rows.

Trump said his new sys­tem, with points given for those with ad­vanced de­grees, job of­fers and other at­tributes, will make it ex­actly “clear what stan­dards we ask you to achieve.”

Nowa­days, “we dis­crim­i­nate against ge­nius,” he said, us­ing a softer tone than his usual fiery cam­paign ral­lies. “We dis­crim­i­nate against bril­liance. We won’t any­more once we get this passed.”

Even be­fore the speech, Democrats, whose votes would be needed for any bill to be ap­proved by the di­vided Congress, panned the ef­fort and ques­tioned the Trump Repub­li­can Party’s com­mit­ment to fam­i­lies.

“Are they say­ing fam­ily is with­out merit?” asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Are they say­ing most of the peo­ple who’ve come to the United States in the his­tory of our coun­try are with­out merit be­cause they don’t have an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree?”

Pelosi con­tin­ued: “Cer­tainly we want to at­tract the best to our coun­try.” But she said “merit” is a “con­de­scend­ing” word that means “merit in the eyes of Don­ald Trump.”

Trump’s new plan has been months in the mak­ing, a pro­ject of his son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, who has been meet­ing pri­vately with busi­ness groups, re­li­gious lead­ers and conservati­ves to find com­mon ground among Repub­li­cans on an is­sue that has long di­vided the party.

Kush­ner, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his think­ing, has long com­plained that many ad­vo­cates on the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue are very clear about what they’re against, but have much more trou­ble ar­tic­u­lat­ing what they’re “for.” Kush­ner set out to cre­ate a pro­posal that Repub­li­cans might be able to rally around, his mis­sion to give the pres­i­dent and his party a clear plat­form head­ing into the 2020 elec­tions.

Trump didn’t men­tion his son-in-law’s work dur­ing the ad­dress, but noted that the pro­posal wasn’t writ­ten by politi­cians. In­stead, the pres­i­dent said it had in­put from law en­force­ment per­son­nel. It also had echoes of White House se­nior ad­viser Stephen Miller, who wants to push down the coun­try’s im­mi­gra­tion lev­els and has driven much of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy.

With a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis at the bor­der — of­fi­cials said this week a fourth child, a 2-year-old Gu­atemalan mi­grant, died in U.S. cus­tody — Trump promised to halt il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings with the “most com­plete and ef­fec­tive bor­der se­cu­rity pack­age ever as­sem­bled.” He did not men­tion the child’s death.

As part of the plan, of­fi­cials want to shore up ports of en­try to en­sure all ve­hi­cles and peo­ple are screened and to cre­ate a self-sus­tain­ing fund, paid for with in­creased fees, to mod­ern­ize ports of en­try.

The plan also calls for build­ing bor­der wall in tar­geted lo­ca­tions and con­tin­ues to push for an over­haul to the U.S. asy­lum sys­tem, with the goal of pro­cess­ing fewer ap­pli­ca­tions and more quickly re­mov­ing peo­ple who don’t qual­ify.

The plan does not ad­dress what to do about the mil­lions of im­mi­grants al­ready liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of young “Dream­ers” brought to the U.S. as chil­dren — a top pri­or­ity for Democrats. Nor does it re­duce over­all rates of im­mi­gra­tion, as Miller and many con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans would like.

Repub­li­cans in Congress who were briefed on the plan by Kush­ner and Miller ear­lier this week wel­comed, but did not fully em­brace, the ap­proach. Some of those up for re-elec­tion, in­clud­ing Sen. Su­san Collins of Maine, ob­jected to its fail­ure to ac­count for the young Dream­ers. In Colorado, a Demo­crat run­ning against GOP Sen. Cory Gard­ner blasted it as part of Trump’s “hate­ful” im­mi­gra­tion agenda that would do noth­ing but “build Trump’s wall and keep fam­i­lies apart.”

Man­del Ngan / AFP/Getty Im­ages

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ges­tures as he de­liv­ers re­marks on im­mi­gra­tion at the Rose Gar­den of the White House on Thurs­day.

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