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Trump unveils 'pro-American' immigration plan


President Trump on Thursday rolled out a new immigration plan that would move the U.S. toward a “merit-based” system favoring highly skilled workers over migrants with family members living here, saying it would make the nation “the envy of the world.”

But the president made it clear he views the plan, which has little chance of passing Congress, as a political cudgel against Democrats as much as a serious legislative proposal.

“Today we are presenting a clear contrast,” Trump said during a speech in the Rose Garden of the White House. “Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages and, frankly, lawless chaos. We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first.”

The president said he would use his “common sense” plan to paint Democrats as unreasonable during the 2020 elections if they do not work with him to make it become law and predicted it could help propel him to a reelection victory.

“If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency,” he said, sparking applause from the Rose Garden crowd. “One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-American immigration policy.”

Trump formally announced his new plan after it was greeted with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and some Republicans questioned why it did not address the fate of millions of young immigrants who were unlawfully brought to the U.S.

Enshrining protections for those immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” has been a top priority for Democrats ever since Trump attempted to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

White House aides have said the issue is too divisive and was intentionally left out of Trump’s latest proposal.

“Every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan and it’s included DACA, it’s failed,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Sanders told reporters.

Trump sought to explain how his plan would transform the U.S. immigration system, saying it would not raise or lower the number of people granted permanent residence each year but instead change the makeup of the immigrant population by giving priority to skilled workers or high-achieving students.

It would rate visa applicants on a point-based scale based on age, education, job offers and English proficiency. The goal is for nearly 60 percent of the immigrant population to be work-based, as opposed to the two-thirds who currently come due to ties with relatives.

“We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore once we get this passed,” Trump said.

The plan was crafted by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who spent the past several days briefing Republican lawmakers on its details. But Democrats have largely been left in the dark, even though they control the House, and the White House did not release further details about the plan following the speech.

Democrats have long been suspicious of Trump on immigration, an issue on which he has taken a hard-line stance since launching his presidential bid in 2015, and they panned his new plan before it was officially announced.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday the plan would ultimately fail because White House adviser Stephen Miller plays an influential role in setting the administration policy.

In a Senate floor speech, Schumer said Miller’s hands “are all over this plan” and noted he attended a closed-door briefings for GOP lawmakers alongside Kushner.

“When Stephen Miller … is in the room, it is a surefire failure,” the top Senate Democrat said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference she still believes “comprehensive immigration reform” that deals with the undocumented population is the correct approach, and criticized Trump’s focus on merit-based immigration.

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

While Trump’s plan was intended to put a softer face on his hard-edged policies, he also drew criticism from immigrant-rights groups for pledging to crack down on what he said are “meritless” asylum claims at the border.

The Trump administration has blamed the large number of migrants seeking asylum for what it calls a crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border but left-leaning advocacy groups have said that limiting their ability to seek asylum to infringe on their due-process rights and force them to return to dangerous situations in their home countries.

Trump’s plan also risked a backlash among his core supporters on the right who have cheered his fiery rhetoric and uncompromising stance on immigration.

In particular, some activists took issue with the decision to leave the number of people admitted legally into the U.S. the same, instead of lowering it as Trump’s past proposal did.

NumbersUSA, a group that favors lower levels of immigration, issued a cautiously worded statement that said Trump deserves “praise” for “trying to fashion an immigration system that would better serve the interests of the American people” but noted it is still waiting for “details on how the plan moves toward that priority.”

“I'm eager to see the specific protections for putting American workers first by allowing market forces to continue to raise wages and to encourage employers to recruit from the millions of working-age Americans —disproportionately African Americans and young adults — who remain outside the labor market,” said the group’s president, Roy Beck.

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