President Trump on Thursday unveiled a long-awaited immigration overhaul that would dramatically alter how the U.S. accepts people into the country, shifting the system in order to favor admissions based on merit rather than family ties.
“If adopted, our plan will transform America’s immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world,” Trump said from the Rose Garden.
The proposal would judge immigrants with a points-based system — accounting for age, English proficiency, whether each candidate has an offer of employment above a certain wage threshold, and educational and vocational factors.
Currently, only approximately 12 percent of immigrants are admitted based on employment and skills, while 66 percent are admitted based on family connections. Administration officials estimate that those numbers would shift to 57 and 33 percent, respectively, under the Trump plan.
“Currently 66 percent of legal immigrants come here based on random chance, they’re admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States, and it doesn’t really matter who that relative is,” Trump said.
The average yearly wage of legal immigrants is approximately $43,000. Administration officials said Wednesday that immigrants admitted based on education and skills would have an average income of $126,000, and they would expect the average yearly wage of all immigrants to rise to roughly $96,000.
Trump has long sought to end what he has called “chain migration” as part of his broader push to reform America’s immigration laws and who is allowed into the country.
He has also frequently called for the end to the visa lottery program, something his immigration plan seeks to do. It would be replaced by a new “Build America Visa” program that would recognize “extraordinary talent” and “people with professional and specialized vocations,” including exceptional students.
The plan does not deal with those already in the country illegally, including those who came to the country as children and were protected under an Obama-era executive order. However, Trump said it closes loopholes so that gang members and criminals are inadmissible, and would stop frivolous asylum claims.
“For criminals already here, we will ensure their swift deportation,” he said.
The plan could face some opposition from some conservatives as it does not reduce overall rates of immigration.
But Trump said the plan will present a “clear contrast” with Democrats’ immigration plans.
“Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages and frankly, lawless chaos,” he said. “We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first.”
“Our plan is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker,” he said. “It’s just common sense.”
Democrats dismissed Trump’s plan before it was even announced, indicating an uphill climb in Congress. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier Thursday that the plan “isn’t a serious attempt at immigration reform.”
“It repackages the same partisan, radical anti-immigrant policies that the administration has pushed for the two years – all of which have struggled to earn even a simple majority in the Senate let alone 60 votes,” he said.
Trump’s immigration proposal comes as the administration is scrambling separately to deal with the more pressing question of illegal immigration on the southern border.
Customs and Border Protection said it apprehended or turned away more than 109,000 migrants attempting to cross the border in April, the second month in a row the number has topped 100,000.
A bill unveiled by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Wednesday would end asylum claims from Central America at the border, and return unaccompanied minors to their home countries.
Fox News’ Gregg Re, John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.