On Thursday, May 16, 2019, President Trump unveiled his administration’s proposal for a new employment-heavy Immigration system that focuses on reworking border security and the current legal Immigration system. Though the proposed changes do not limit the number of green cards allocated each year, roughly 1.1 million per year, they do prioritize high-skilled workers over family relationships. Trump’s plan was championed by advisor / son-in-law Jared Kushner, who reportedly had been working on the plan for months.
Before we get into the plan details itself, we want to make it abundantly clear to our readers that this is largely an academic exercise – there is unlikely to be a vote on legislation embodying Trump’s plan, much less passage through a divided Congress. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Trump’s plan has garnered bipartisan rebuke. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offer a “dead-on-arrival plan that is not a remotely serious proposal.” Republicans speaking anonymously to the Washington Post likewise blasted the plan, pointing out that it lacked important details and cannot pass without addressing solutions for DREAMers.
Trump’s plan would scrap the current FB- and EB- categories, upending expectations for families who have waited years (or even decades) for residency. Under this new system, the preference categories would be replaced with a new visa dubbed the “Build America” visa, which will have no per country limits. The “Build America” visa (a so-called) merit-based legal immigration system would create a two-step process to obtain a Green Card that begins with 1) a civics test and background check; and then 2) evaluates each applicant on a point system that takes into consideration the applicant’s age, ability to speak English, job offers received, work experience and educational background. This new system will ultimately favor young applicants likely to build long-term ties and contribute to America’s society over their lifetimes. Scrapping guaranteed categories for family members, the newly proposed system would seek to prioritize spouses and children of U.S. citizens and immediate family members of U.S. Citizens and permanent residents, but it will eliminate those applicants currently waiting for years to immigrate as they would have to reapply under a new point-based system. This would affect the roughly 4 million applicants under backlogs reported back in November 1, 2018, resulting in unnecessary collateral damage as the current U.S. immigration system already prioritizes immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Currently, about 67 percent of all green cards issued to date fell into one of the family-sponsored categories, while 13 percent of green cards issued were awarded to refugees and asylum seekers. The new system aims to issue about 57 percent of green cards to applicants with high professional skills and education as the current system issues about 12 percent of all green cards to these immigrants.
The administration may claim to have modeled the proposal on Canada’s point-based Express Entry system, although it is incredibly important to note that our northern neighbors have family-reunification streams separate and apart from Express Entry.
Furthermore, the proposed immigration plan seeks to fund full border security through border crossing fees and revenues generated at ports of entry, which will be placed in a trust fund to ensure quick access to funding for physical barrier construction and enforcement of visa overstays.
Trump’s plan also proposes changes to the process in seeking asylum, including blocking Central Americans from applying for asylum at the border and instead requiring them to apply at processing centers in the Northern Triangle and in Mexico. President Trump claims the new system will prioritize “legitimate asylum-seekers” over “those lodging frivolous claims”, as if our current system does not already implement this goal.
While we cannot state for certain that Trump’s legislative plan will fail in Congress, we are happy to prognosticate that its prospects look quite hopeless. Without the Administration embracing good faith compromise with the Democratic-controlled house (perhaps akin to the 2013 legislation which passed the Senate with 68 votes), comprehensive reform is highly unlikely.