At a Glance
In his remarks to a joint session of Congress, President Trump largely renewed his call for DACA relief in exchange for increased border security and limits on family and diversity immigration. He also voiced continued support for a merit-based system.
Immigration in the State of the Union address
In his first State of the Union address, President Donald J. Trump called for relief for DACA beneficiaries and DACA-eligible foreign nationals, but urged significant increases in border security and new limits on some forms of immigration.
President Trump largely reiterated the four elements of his new immigration framework – a 10-12 year path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million DACA beneficiaries and DACA-eligible foreign nationals, in exchange for $25 billion for border infrastructure and personnel, greater enforcement authority, new limits on family immigration and elimination of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. He also voiced his continued support for a merit-based immigration system.
As the debate moves forward, it is important to understand certain key points that can be obscured by some of the terms in use. The call for limits on "chain migration," for example, raise this issue. While future revisions of the family-based system are certainly possible, and the debate over that question is legitimate, there is a risk of misperception that those immigrating to this country can bring unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Current law restricts family sponsorship to spouses and children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and the parents and siblings of U.S. citizens. Sponsorship of distant relatives is not permitted.
Likewise, the recent focus on merit-based immigration has resulted in a misperception that skilled migration might increase. The key "merit-based" immigration proposal would not raise employment-based green card quotas, and would mean a transition from employer selection to government selection based on accrual of points. Again, whether to adopt a system like this is a legitimate matter for discussion, and will be a central topic as the national immigration debate moves forward. The details of that debate will be important.
President Trump’s latest remarks on immigration come as legislators in Congress continue to negotiate reform ahead of two critical dates: the February 8 expiration of federal government funding and the Administration’s March 5 target date for termination of the DACA program. As these dates approach, an agreement on DACA remains elusive. While broader legislative reforms to the U.S. immigration systems are under discussion, resolution of DACA and a longer-term budget deal may mean that large-scale employment-based reforms are deferred, particularly in light of the other priorities expressed in the President’s address.