Washington: President Trump on Thursday unveiled a plan to overhaul parts of the nation’s immigration system that would impose new security measures at the border and significantly increase the educational and skills requirements for people allowed to migrate to the United States.
The proposal would vastly scale back the system of family-based immigration that for decades has allowed immigrants to bring their spouses and children to live with them. In its place, the new plan would provide opportunities for immigrants who have specific skills or job offers to work in the United States, provided they can demonstrate English proficiency and educational attainment, and pass a civics exam.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, spent months working on the plan, which will serve as a central part of Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign message. Working with him was Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser, but the plan falls short of the more extreme measures that Mr. Miller has long pressed the president to adopt and that have long been opposed by Democrats in Congress.
Attempts by Mr. Trump’s two predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to overcome those kinds of differences and achieve a bipartisan consensus on immigration policy ended in failure. Since then, the divisions between the parties have only worsened, and there is little chance the new proposal will change that. For different reasons, the broad outlines of the plan described on Wednesday are certain to be unpopular with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
It calls for construction of some of the border wall that is a preoccupation of Mr. Trump’s and vehemently opposed by Democrats, and upends family-based migration in ways that Democrats and immigrant advocates have long opposed. And it contains no provision for providing legal status to people brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, or other undocumented immigrants.
At the same time, the plan would not reduce the overall level of immigration into the United States, a longstanding goal of conservative, anti-immigration groups that had hoped Mr. Trump’s election would finally provide the political backing for lowering the number of legal immigrants allowed in the country.
“To say this is dead on arrival would be generous,” said Frank Sharry, who has worked for two decades to secure bipartisan legislation on immigration. “This is worse than the proposal that got 39 votes in the Senate in 2018. This won’t unite Republicans and will get zero Democratic support.”
Mr. Trump’s proposal comes after he has made immigration the focus of his domestic agenda for more than two years, pursuing policies that have ignited protests around the world, such as banning travel from Muslim-majority countries, separating families at the border, closing the border to asylum seekers and building a wall along the southern border.
The president is scheduled to reveal some details about the proposal during a Rose Garden ceremony on Thursday afternoon. But officials conceded that the plan was a long way from becoming a legislative reality, with one saying on Wednesday that it represented a “first step toward having that discussion.”
Officials said half of the plan dealt with the system of visas that allowed about one million people to enter the United States legally each year.
Currently, about 12 percent of those immigrants qualify to enter based on their skills, while more than half are given permission to enter because of a family connection. Under Mr. Trump’s proposal, those numbers would be reversed, with nearly 60 percent of all visas going to immigrants with particular skills or offers of employment.
That reversal would increase the overall education level of immigrants, the officials said, with nearly three-quarters of those migrating to the United States having bachelor’s degrees or an advanced degree under the new Trump plan. It would also increase the average salary for immigrants to $96,000 from $43,000, they said.
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, hammered the president’s proposal in an article in National Review, saying it did not go far enough to shrink overall numbers and would be a disappointment to voters who thought that Mr. Trump would fight to keep out immigrants who compete with them for jobs.
The president’s plan is “out of touch with the president’s base,” Mr. Krikorian wrote on Tuesday. “The proposal will not include any reduction in the overall level of legal immigration, not even a symbolic one.”
The other half of Mr. Trump’s plan calls for cracking down on illegal immigration, mostly at the southern border. Officials did not disclose specifics but said it would deal with the huge influx of families at the border by enacting measures to make it harder to claim asylum and giving authorities the power to hold families in detention for longer periods.
It would also provide resources for the construction of “physical barriers” at 33 key places along the border that law enforcement officials say are known crossings for drug dealers and human traffickers. Mr. Kushner and other White House officials, including Mr. Miller, briefed Republican senators on the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday.
“There was a lot of encouragement in the room for what these guys have done,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota and a close Trump ally. “Everybody has something that they would want, but this is something that’s doable.”
But Mr. Cramer laughed when he was asked how Republicans would get Democrats on board with the plan. Previous efforts to confront the issue have tried to include provisions wanted by both parties. The president’s plan does not do that, officials said.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said he recently sent Mr. Trump a copy of the 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate with 68 votes after being developed by a group of Democratic and Republican senators.
“If they want to get bipartisan legislation, do what we did with the Gang of Eight,” Mr. Schumer said. “Don’t come up with a plan that Stephen Miller rubber stamps and say, ‘Now pass it.’ It’s not going to happen.”
Mr. Schumer added that any immigration bill that could pass in the Senate and the Democratic-controlled House would have to deal with the fate of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Mr. Trump ended the Obama-era program in September 2017, though so far federal judges have kept it running.
“Exclusion of DACA?” Mr. Schumer said. The idea that for every immigrant they help, they “hurt one, all of that is no good.”
Lisa Koop of the National Immigrant Justice Center said she had no reason to think that the Trump administration was operating in good faith to address the nation’s immigration problems.
“A plan that forces families apart, limits access to asylum and other humanitarian relief, and doesn’t contemplate a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other undocumented community members is clearly a political stunt intended to posture rather than problem-solve,” she said.
Officials who briefed reporters on Wednesday said the White House had begun to convert its plan into a bill that could be introduced in Congress. But they declined to say whether Mr. Trump intended to pursue legislation in the weeks or months ahead.
One senior administration official said he hoped that parts of the plan would be “on the shelf” for lawmakers to use in the months ahead as they struggle to find a way to deal with the nation’s broken immigration system.
But it is unclear whether Republicans facing re-election in 2020 will want to embrace a divisive debate about changing immigration laws as they fight for their jobs. And Republicans who do want to talk about immigration are far more likely to follow Mr. Trump’s lead by stoking fear about migrant caravans, gang members and criminal border-crossers.