Setting aside some of his hardline rhetoric on irregular immigration, Trump said on Thursday that he wants to recruit “top talent” to the nation as he unveiled his latest efforts to reform residency laws after years of setbacks and stalemates.
Trump’s plan, roundly panned by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, is aimed at trying to unite Republicans – some who want to boost immigration, others who want to restrict it – ahead of the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.
“We discriminate against genius,” Trump said of current policies, which he contended excessively favour family-based immigration.
“We won’t any more once we get this passed,” Trump said in a Rose Garden address to Republican lawmakers and Cabinet members.
Currently, about two-thirds of the 1.1 million people allowed to emigrate to the US each year are given green cards granting permanent residency because of family ties.
Trump proposed to keep the overall numbers steady, but shift to a “merit-based” system similar to one used in Canada – a plan he said would result in 57 percent of green cards to be based on employment and skills.
Ahead of the speech, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “merit” was a “condescending” term.
“Are they saying family is without merit? 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?” Pelosi told reporters.
The plan was developed by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller, an adviser known for his hard line on immigration issues.
Democratic support would be needed to advance any legislation through the Republican-led Senate – let alone the Democratic-controlled House.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticised the White House for failing to consult Democratic lawmakers, and said that showed the White House was not serious.
Trump’s plan included proposals to beef up security at the border to try to prevent people from crossing illegally and legal changes aimed at curbing a flood of Central American migrants seeking asylum.
But it left aside the thorny issue of how to deal with the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally – many for years – and protections for “Dreamer” children brought to the country illegally, a top priority for Democratic lawmakers.