“We want immigrants coming in. We cherish the open door,” Trump said in a Rose Garden speech as Cabinet members and Republican lawmakers filled the front rows.
But the wall hasn’t been abandoned. The plan includes a proposal to allow public donations to pay for it, the AP reported.
A fact sheet released by the White House after the announcement said the President’s proposal would “safeguard our homeland by continuing to add to the 600-plus kilometres of border wall underway in strategic locations” and “will also enable public donations for the wall.”
One GoFundMe campaign launched by war veteran Brian Kolfage has raised more than $US20 million ($29 million) for wall construction.
Trump forced a government shutdown to try to secure money to fulfil the central promise of his 2016 campaign and then issued an emergency declaration to circumvent Congress for additional funds.
Trump said his new system, with points given for those with advanced degrees, job offers and other attributes, will make it exactly “clear what standards we ask you to achieve”.
Nowadays, “we discriminate against genius,” he said, using a softer tone than his usual fiery campaign rallies. “We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore once we get this passed.”
Even before the speech, Democrats, whose votes would be needed for any bill to be approved by the divided Congress, panned the effort and questioned the Republican Party’s commitment to families.
“Are they saying family is without merit?” asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Are they saying most of the people who’ve come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree?”
Pelosi continued: “Certainly we want to attract the best to our country.” But she said “merit” is a “condescending” word that means “merit in the eyes of Donald Trump.”
Trump’s new plan has been months in the making, a project of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been meeting privately with business groups, religious leaders and conservatives to find common ground among Republicans on an issue that has long divided the party.
Kushner has long complained that many advocates on the immigration issue are very clear about what they’re against, but have much more trouble articulating what they’re “for”. Kushner set out to create a proposal that Republicans might be able to rally around, his mission to give the President and his party a clear platform heading into the 2020 elections.
Trump didn’t mention his son-in-law’s work during the address but noted that the proposal wasn’t written by politicians. Instead, he said it had input from law enforcement personnel. It also had echoes of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who wants to push down immigration levels and has driven much of the administration’s policy.
With a humanitarian crisis at the border – officials said this week that a fourth child, a two-year-old Guatemalan migrant, died in US custody – Trump promised to halt illegal border crossings with the “most complete and effective border security package ever assembled.” He did not mention the child’s death.
As part of the plan, officials want to shore up ports of entry to ensure all vehicles and people are screened and to create a self-sustaining fund, paid for with increased fees, to modernise ports of entry.
The plan also calls for building border wall in targeted locations and continues to push for an overhaul to the US asylum system, with the goal of processing fewer applications and more quickly removing people who don’t qualify.
The plan does not address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, including hundreds of thousands of young “Dreamers” brought to the US as children – a top priority for Democrats. Nor does it reduce overall rates of immigration, as Miller and many conservative Republicans would like.
Republicans in Congress who were briefed on the plan by Kushner and Miller earlier this week welcomed, but did not fully embrace, the approach. Some of those up for reelection, including Maine Senator Susan Collins, objected to its failure to account for the young Dreamers. In Colorado, a Democrat running against Republican Senator Cory Gardner blasted it as part of Trump’s “hateful” immigration agenda that would do nothing but “build Trump’s wall and keep families apart.”
At its core, the proposal would fundamentally overhaul how the country for decades has approached immigration. The country has long placed a preference on providing green cards to family members of immigrants.
Under the Trump plan, the country would award the same number of green card as it now does, about 1 million annually. 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.
Fewer would be reserved just for immediate family members – Trump mentioned spouses and children – rather than parents and adult siblings. Fifty-seven percent would be awarded on merit as opposed to the current 12 per cent.
While Trump is seeking to put a softer facade on the top issue from his first campaign, he also is making a direct appeal to his supporters. He says his plan means fewer low-skilled immigrants will compete for low-paying American jobs.
“Our plan is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker,” Trump said, saying it contrasts with what he called Democrats’ support of “chaos”.
Efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades, and prospects for an agreement seem especially bleak as the 2020 elections approach.
Lisa Koop, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Centre, called Trump’s plan “a political stunt intended to posture rather than problem- solve.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Centre for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration rates, welcomed a “very positive effort” that was “undermined by the embrace of the current very high level of immigration.”