Trump wants open door to merit, skill

Im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal omits plan to deal with il­le­gals al­ready in U.S.


Pres­i­dent Trump sought to re­take the reins of the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate Thurs­day by an­nounc­ing a bold plan to re­fash­ion le­gal im­mi­gra­tion from its heavy re­liance on fam­ily ties into a points-based sys­tem that would boost those with pre­ferred skills.

Mr. Trump said the over­all level of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion would re­main the same, at about 1.1 mil­lion peo­ple per year, but that the U.S. should do more to pick new­com­ers who would boost the econ­omy rather than rely on mi­grants to pick them­selves based on which rel­a­tives are al­ready in the coun­try.

Gone was the stiff rhetoric of the 2016 cam­paign, when can­di­date Trump warned of an “in­flux of for­eign work­ers” and pro­posed a “pause” on job­based im­mi­gra­tion. In­stead, Mr. Trump talked of open doors and a nation of im­mi­grants, though he said it mat­ters how they get into the U.S.

“We want im­mi­grants com­ing in. We cher­ish the open door,” he said in a speech in the White House Rose Gar­den. “But a big pro­por­tion of those im­mi­gra­tions must come in through merit and skill.”

Right now, only about 12% of im­mi­grants are se­lected based on em­ploy­ment. The pres­i­dent said his plan would raise that to 57%, “and we’d like to even see if we can go higher.”

He said his plan would achieve 100% op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity at the bor­der, with more tech­nol­ogy to scan ve­hi­cles com­ing through the le­gal ports, more barriers to pre­vent peo­ple from jump­ing be­tween the ports and tighter rules to stop abuse of the asy­lum sys­tem.

Yet Mr. Trump’s plan does not deal with fu­ture for­eign guest work­ers, nor does it ad­dress any of the es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants al­ready in the U.S. who are clam­or­ing for le­gal sta­tus.

Those omis­sions made the tim­ing of the

an­nounce­ment cu­ri­ous.

Congress is de­bat­ing what to do about the surge of mi­grants at the bor­der, where nearly 110,000 peo­ple crossed il­le­gally in April alone. The vast ma­jor­ity of those were fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren, set­ting a record.

Mean­while, Democrats say they are less in­ter­ested in le­gal im­mi­gra­tion than they are in the 11 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants who they say should be re­warded with cit­i­zen­ship.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said the pres­i­dent’s plan isn’t go­ing any­where on Capi­tol Hill, and she bris­tled at the claim that his points plan is based on merit.

“It is re­ally a con­de­scend­ing word. Are they say­ing fam­ily is with­out merit?” she asked. “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?”

Oth­ers were even more crit­i­cal. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, called Mr. Trump’s plan “anti-im­mi­grant,” and United We Dream, an ad­vo­cacy group for il­le­gal im­mi­grant “Dream­ers,” said the plan was writ­ten by a “white su­prem­a­cist.”

Im­mi­grants’ List, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, said the pres­i­dent’s plan was in­tended to “rile up big­oted sen­ti­ment about im­mi­grants.”

Those re­ac­tions didn’t jibe with Mr. Trump’s words, which cast his plan as ev­i­dence of an ad­min­is­tra­tion ea­ger to em­brace new­com­ers.

Far from shut­ting the door, he said, his plan would “in­crease the diversity of im­mi­gra­tion flows.”

Still, the pres­i­dent painted im­mi­gra­tion as a se­ries of trade-offs.

He said bo­gus asy­lum seek­ers take as­sis­tance money from le­git­i­mate asy­lum seek­ers and are be­gin­ning to strain govern­ment fi­nances.

He also said not tai­lor­ing the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem to merit means the most vul­ner­a­ble low-skilled Amer­i­can work­ers face com­pe­ti­tion.

Mr. Trump drew audi­ble cheers from his au­di­ence in the Rose Gar­den when he said his plan would speed up the point at which im­mi­grants have to demon­strate that they have learned Eng­lish and have a knowl­edge of Amer­i­can civics.

He said those will have to be proved “prior to ad­mis­sion.”

The pres­i­dent ac­knowl­edged the

po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of con­gres­sional ac­tion this year but sig­naled that he will take his plan to vot­ers in his re­elec­tion cam­paign next year.

“We will get it ap­proved im­me­di­ately af­ter the elec­tion when we take back the House, keep the Se­nate and, of course, hold the pres­i­dency,” Mr. Trump said.

Ali Noorani, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of

the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Fo­rum, broke with naysay­ers in the ac­tivist com­mu­nity. He saw Mr. Trump’s an­nounce­ment as a good start for a broader di­a­logue.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan rec­og­nizes that our coun­try needs im­mi­grants and that they con­trib­ute to eco­nomic pros­per­ity and in­no­va­tion

across the U.S.,” he said. “That is a strong start­ing prin­ci­ple on which to build a con­ver­sa­tion around fix­ing our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

He said, though, that the U.S. econ­omy needs work­ers “across all sec­tors,” so what­ever emerges will need to be broader than what Mr. Trump has laid out.


PATIENT: Pres­i­dent Trump ac­knowl­edged the po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of con­gres­sional ac­tion on his im­mi­gra­tion plan this year but sig­naled that he will take it to vot­ers in his re­elec­tion cam­paign next year.

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