President Donald Trump will unveil an immigration policy today that would reverse visa priorities from a family-based to a merit-based system and include increased border security measures.
Senior Trump administration officials said Wednesday in a conference call that the current system is outdated and that proposed changes spearheaded by senior White House adviser Stephen Miller and top official Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, would “modernize the system and bolster the economy.”
Officials said the plan attempts to do six things: secure the borders; protect American wages; attract the “best and brightest”; unify families; meet the needs for labor in critical industries; and preserve humanitarian values.
The merit-based visa system would take into account age, English proficiency and offers of employment and would require civics tests, health screenings and criminal background checks.
The White House officials said the current system is weighted toward those who have a family member already in the country.
They said that only 12% of legal immigrants were allowed entry based on employment skills and pointed out that in many other countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, more than 50% of immigration is based on employment skills.
The proposal seeks to raise the number of legal immigrants based on employment skills to 57%. The plan would keep the number of people entering the country legally the same, which they said was 1 million per year.
The officials said immigration under Trump’s “Build America Visa” proposal would increase the tax base because the people who were permitted to enter the country would be making higher wages.
The plan faces an uphill battle in Congress, where efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades amid deeply divided Republicans and Democrats.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he plans to introduce an immigration reform bill that would require immigrants to apply for U.S. asylum in their home countries instead of at the border.
Graham’s plan would also hire more immigration judges and modify a court settlement that currently limits the amount of time migrant children can be held in detention while they await adjudication.
“I’m trying to solve a problem that is just getting completely out of hand,” Graham said. “… I am urging the president to lead us to a solution, and I am urging our Democratic colleagues, in spite of your dislike and displeasure with this president, to find a solution to this problem quickly.”
During Wednesday’s conference call, the White House officials said Trump’s plan seeks to rapidly deploy infrastructure at and between legal points of entry.
The Associated Press reported that the proposal includes construction of a border wall at 33 “priority” locations, and that higher immigration fees would finance continuous upgrades of infrastructure along the border and at ports of entry.
The White House would also overhaul the asylum process in a bid to reduce claims for refugee status at the border, after a surge of migrants claiming danger in their home countries overwhelmed immigration courts.
The White House officials said they wanted to streamline the application process for people with legitimate asylum claims while reducing the number of those making fraudulent claims.
They seek to halt practices by “smugglers and coyotes” who advertise transportation to the U.S. in the Central American Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), from where a majority of refugees recently seeking asylum here have fled.
Border Patrol agents from October through March took 189,584 families and 35,898 unaccompanied children into custody.
In the El Paso sector alone during the same period, 53,565 parents with kids and 7,565 children on their own crossed the border and turned themselves in to agents. The El Paso sector includes all of the New Mexico border with Mexico.
The senior administration officials said they believed Democrats are starting to agree there is a crisis at the border.
But a Democratic member of the New Mexico delegation – U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich – told the Journal in an earlier interview that he believed Trump administration policies are to blame for the surge of migrants in rural areas of the border.
“They’re not sneaking into the country,” Heinrich said. “His (Trump) policies have made things dramatically worse. They would be more than willing to cross at legal ports of entry, but he’s made that more difficult.”
He said policies that placed a limit on asylum-seekers processed at legal ports of entry have led to migrants choosing to enter at places such as Antelope Wells and Sunland Park in New Mexico.
Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced a major legislative proposal Wednesday to address the causes of the Central American migrant crisis.
The bill outlines a coordinated regional response to manage the endemic violence and humanitarian crises in the Northern Triangle countries that are leading many women, children and families to flee.
“This legislation recognizes that we have to address the root causes of migration from Central American countries – not merely scramble to deal with the symptoms when they reach our border,” Udall said.
Heinrich said the bill would reinstate depleted foreign aid, crack down on gang violence, strengthen economic opportunity and enhance refugee processing systems that allow potential migrants to make claims in their home countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.