Trump’s immigration plan
Yesterday Trump announced an immigration plan that was broadly focused on two themes: Border security and reform of our visa system. Video and transcript available here.
On border security, Trump’s plan calls for the construction of more wall along sections of the border. He is also calling for technological improvements at ports of entry that will allow scanning of all vehicles. A border security trust fund, would be created from fees assigned at the border, to cover the costs of these changes.
Trump also repeated his claims about abuse of the asylum process by those with “meritless claims.” However, there was little of substance on asylum proceedings. As we noted yesterday, Lindsey Graham has offered legislation that would gut the asylum process. We can only assume that some of these measures would be attached to any comprehensive reform effort. Indeed, Trump encouraged passage to Graham’s “reforms” during his speech.
On the visa system Trump was more specific on goals, less specific on means.
The reforms are touted as focused on creating a “merit-based” system that would replace current preferences given to family members of U.S citizens and permanent residents. From NBC News:
The White House estimates 12 percent of people who obtain green cards and citizenship do so based on “employment and skill,” while 66 percent enter via family-based connections and 22 percent through humanitarian visas and the diversity lottery. Under the new proposal, employment and skill would increase to 57 percent, 33 percent for family-based and 10 percent for everything else.
The merit-based system proposal is centered around what would be called the “Build America” visa. It recognizes three categories: extraordinary talent, professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students.
The plan, as announced, would be a significant overhaul of the system, one that would impact millions of people currently waiting for visas around the world. Stuart Anderson, writing for Forbes, explains:
Under the proposal, more than 4 million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs would have their immigration applications eliminated, even if they have been waiting in line for years to immigrate.
“Immigrants in the green card backlog would lose their place in line and would need to apply under the new point-based system,” according to an analysis from Berry Appleman & Leiden. “The White House has said people who are currently waiting for green cards will receive additional points, but no specifics have been released.” This was confirmed by Donald Trump’s May 16, 2019, speech, in which he stated that all current family and employment-based preference categories would be eliminated and replaced by new “Build America” visas awarded by points.
Anderson concludes: The most common argument made against helping Dreamers and others without legal status is that we should welcome immigrants to America who have waited patiently to immigrate and have “played by the rules.” The irony is that over 4 million people who have waited patiently in immigration backlogs and played by the rules have just been told they have wasted their time.
Part of the plan outlined by Trump would include a civics test that must be passed prior to receiving a visa. Some reflection on this:
“This test is at best unnecessary and could screen out some very skilled, ambitious immigrants who are ready to be productive in America, whatever the test says,” said Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-director of its Trade and Immigration Project.
“It could be a barrier to very productive immigrants becoming a part of American society,” he said.
Griswold and others said that while the details of Trump’s proposal remain unclear, they have never heard of such a requirement at that level in the immigration process. Such exams are usually part of citizenship tests, they said.
“It’s like asking for people to apply for citizenship when they arrive,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. “It’s a big thing to ask of people from other parts of the world.”
[Note: It might be interesting to require members of Congress to take the test before voting on any legislation related to immigration.
Trump’s plan did not directly address issues impacting people already living in the United States: No mention of a legislative solution for people currently protected from removal proceedings under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or Temporary Protected Status. As is, Trump’s efforts to end these programs is tied up in federal courts.
The Trump plan will be presented to Congress at some point. Once it has been translated into legislative language that references the specific changes to current law necessary to implement these proposals, we will have a better sense of what is at stake. Currently, Trump seems to be mostly testing the waters and his re-election campaign talking points. However, these reforms would have a dramatic long-term impact on our visa system, so we must take them seriously.