Trump immigration plan sidesteps immigrants here illegally, draws wide criticism from both sides

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s new immigration proposal began drawing fire from all sides of the political spectrum Thursday with Democrats dismissing it as a campaignstatement and some conservatives saying it doesn’t go far enough. 

Crafted by the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, the proposal would create a system to prioritize highly skilled immigrants but it glosses over concerns Trump has raised for years about immigrants slipping over the border and asylum seekers. The president declared a national emergency at the border three months ago.

White House officials previously described the plan as an effort to rally Republicans heading into the 2020 election, and Trump appeared eager to score political points as he rolled out the proposal. He called on Democrats to work with the administration but said he would go it alone if they chose not to.    

“We will get it approved immediately after he election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency,” Trump said administration officials applauded. “One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro America immigration policy.”  

Trump said the proposal includes a trust fund, paid for by border fees, to finance border security. And the president said the plan would make changes to the nation’s asylum system, saying it would screen out “meritless claims” while expediting others. It was not immediately clear how the administration would decide which is which. 

“Under this plan, the border will finally be fully and totally secure,” Trump said.  

What’s not included? 

But the proposal – which was scant on details – is also silent on key issues:   

• A solution for “Dreamers,” the roughly 3.8 million immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Trump terminated a program in 2017 that shielded some 800,000 of them from deportation, but federal courts have left the program intact for now. Democrats say they need a fix for Dreamers to support broader immigration reform. Trump did not mention the program in his remarks Thursday.    

• A plan to deal with the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, which Trump has repeatedly threatened to deport since before taking office. Trump’s 2016 campaign focused heavily on illegal immigration, and his centerpiece response was his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But this latest proposal deals almost exclusively with legal immigration.    

• A solution for more than 300,000 foreign nationals who live legally in the U.S under the Temporary Protected Status program, which allows people to stay in the U.S. while their home countries recover from natural disasters and conflict. The Trump administration has been phasing out that program, but has been blocked by federal courts.

Tough reaction 

Democrats, predictably, were skeptical of the president’s motives and noted White House officials have acknowledged the effort is intended to rally Republicans ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the notion of creating a “merit” immigration system, a term Trump embraces, as “condescending.”

Doomed?: Previous White House immigration plans have failed spectacularly  

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

But it wasn’t just Democrats and left-leaning groups that were slow to warm to the White House outline. The Chamber of Commerce released a lukewarm assessment, saying it appreciated the effort but  “much work remains ahead of us on several issues.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration and routinely advises the Trump administration on policy, said Kushner’s team should be praised for finally putting to paper ideas Trump has only talked about at campaign rallies. 

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While speaking at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service, President Trump vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop illegal immigrants. USA TODAY

But since most observers agree the outline is merely a campaign position, Krikorian said he is disappointed it didn’t call for an overall reduction in legal immigration. The U.S accepts about 1 million legal immigrants each year and Krikorian said the White House missed an opportunity to call for reducing that number by at least 5%.

“They’ve made a conscious decision to embrace mass immigration and not include even a token reduction in the immigration level,” Krikorian said. “That’s a problem precisely because this is not going to be a legislative vehicle.”

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said he believes Trump is serious about addressing legal immigration. 

“If we want to continue this economic boom, we must have an immigration system that responds to the needs of our growing economy, while protecting American workers,” Perdue said. 

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Details unclear

Less clear is how the White House proposal would deal with the asylum system, which is codified in law and international treaties, but which the Trump administration has claimed is broken. Trump he wants to expedite legitimate claims but screen out those who claim asylum, enter the country and then do not appear for hearings to review their case.  

Record numbers of Central American families are fleeing violence and poverty each month to claim asylum in the U.S., overwhelming Border Patrol facilities and prompting Homeland Security officials to plead with Congress to change the rules to make it easier for them to detain or deport unsuccessful applicants.

White House officials told reporters earlier in the week that the proposal includes no changes to asylum. But Trump said in the Rose Garden that there would be significant changes to that system.  

Other changes immigration experts say would be necessary to win bipartisan support include nationalizing the E-Verify program that allows U.S. companies to check the immigration status of job applicants. Immigrant advocates, meanwhile, have called for a comprehensive plan to include humanitarian assistance to migrants arriving in the U.S. and to the Central American countries they are fleeing.

Trump’s proposal would eliminate the so-called “visa lottery,” a program created in 1990 that attempts to balance where immigrants come from by granting green cards to some 50,000 people from regions that traditionally have fewer migrants. He also has railed against what critics describe as “chain migration,” in which immigration authorities prioritize the spouses and unmarried children of immigrants for green cards. 

Department of Homeland Security data show that about 1 million family members of legal permanent residents received green cards between 2007 and 2016, out of 11 million people overall who were granted that status in those years.  

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Contributing: Michael Collins and Eliza Collins

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