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Trump proposes new U.S. immigration plan favouring skills over family ties

U.S. President Donald Trump says he wants to overhaul the country's immigration system to favour young, educated, English-speaking applicants with job offers instead of people with family ties to Americans — a plan with little chance of advancing in Congress.

Calls for 'sweeping modernization' of 'totally dysfunctional' current system

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Thursday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he wants to overhaul the country's immigration system to favour young, educated, English-speaking applicants with job offers instead of people with family ties to Americans — a plan with little chance of advancing in Congress.

"Our plan includes a sweeping modernization of our dysfunctional legal immigration process. It is totally dysfunctional," Trump said in a speech at the White House Rose Garden, noting his administration wants to increase security at the border and reduce claims from asylum seekers.

Setting aside some of his hardline rhetoric on illegal immigration, the president said he wants to recruit "top talent" to the nation with his merit-based plan.

"We discriminate against genius," Trump said of current policies, which he contended excessively favour family-based immigration. "We discriminate against brilliance. We won't anymore once we get this passed."

The latest plan was spearheaded by Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller, an adviser known for his hard line on immigration issues.

It focuses on rethinking the nation's green card system to favour people with high-level skills, degrees and job offers instead of relatives of those already in the country.

The proposed shift to a more merit-based system prioritizing high-skilled workers would mark a dramatic departure from the nation's largely family-based approach, which officials said awards roughly 66 per cent of green cards to those with family ties, and 12 per cent based on skills.

Trump's plan, roundly criticized by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, is also 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.

"Our plan is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker," Trump said. "Our proposal fulfills our sacred duty to those living here today while ensuring America remains a welcoming country to immigrants joining us tomorrow."

A migrant child is carried by family as fellow migrants from Central America walk to the border fence to cross into the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 14, 2018. Trump's proposal would put more emphasis on skills than family ties. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Merit-based system 'condescending'

Efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades, amid deep partisan divisions. Prospects for an agreement seem especially bleak ahead of the upcoming elections, though the plan could give Trump and the Republicans a proposal to rally behind, even as Democrats signal their opposition.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump's emphasis on merit-based immigration is "condescending."

"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 does not address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, including hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers — children of undocumented migrants who came to the U.S. illegally but are protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy Trump has tried to end. The issue has been a top priority for Democrats.

The plan also does not reduce overall rates of immigration, as many conservative Republicans would like to see.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Dreamer immigrants were not included in Trump's new plan because past proposals involving them have failed.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Trump's merit-based immigration plan as 'condescending' to families. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Favouring the highly educated

Under the new plan, the U.S. would award the same number of green cards as it now does. But far more would go to exceptional students, professionals and people with high-level and vocational degrees. Factors such as age, English-language ability and employment offers would also be considered.

The diversity visa lottery, which offers green cards to citizens of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S., would be eliminated.

As part of the plan, officials want to beef up ports of entry and ensure all vehicles and people passing through are screened.

The plan also calls for building a border wall in targeted locations, and continues a push for an overhaul to the U.S. asylum system, with the goal of processing fewer applications and removing people who don't qualify faster.

While the officials insisted their effort was not a "political" plan, they nonetheless framed it as one they hoped Republicans would unite behind, making clear to voters what the party is "for."

"I don't think it's designed to get Democratic support as much as it is to unify the Republican Party around border security, a negotiating position," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the White House.

The plan drew immediate criticism from Democrats as well as immigration activists, who remain deeply skeptical of Trump after past negotiation failures.

Democrats and some Republicans tried crafting a compromise with Trump last year that would have helped young Dreamer immigrants and added money for border security, but those talks collapsed over White House demands to curb legal immigration.

Lisa Koop, with the National Immigrant Justice Center, criticized the proposal for failing to address people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, who are protected from deportation by the DACA policy.

"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.

A child looks through the U.S. border wall from Mexicali, Mexico, on April 5. Trump's immigration plan calls for a border wall to be built in some locations. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

With files from the Associated Press

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