On Thursday, January 25, 2018, the White House shared a one-page “Framework on Immigration Reform and Border Security” with Republican lawmakers. The border security measures include a $25 billion trust fund for a “border wall system,” funding for additional Department of Homeland Security personnel, an end to “catch and release,” increased funding for detention, expanded use of expedited removal, measures to prevent the importing of synthetic drugs, and “immigration court reforms to improve efficiency and prevent fraud and abuse.”
In addition to the enforcement enhancements, the White House would support:
- A 10-12 year path to citizenship for the 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients as well as other DACA-eligible immigrants under a revised deadline for an estimated total of some 1.8 million individuals.
- Limiting family sponsorships to spouses and minor children in an effort to end “extended-family chain migration,” which currently includes adult sons and daughters and siblings of US citizens in the family-based sponsorship categories.
- Elimination of the visa lottery program under which 50,000 citizens of underrepresented countries are admitted to the United States each year and “repurposing” the lottery visa numbers to help reduce the family-based and highly skilled employment visa backlogs.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised to hold Senate floor debate on an immigration measure in the coming weeks. In a statement released by his office on Thursday, Leader McConnell said, “I want to thank President Trump and his administration for their work on this important issue. This framework builds upon the four pillars for reform that the president has consistently put forth, and indicates what is necessary for the president to sign a bill into law. I am hopeful that as discussions continue in the Senate on the subject of immigration, Members on both sides of the aisle will look to this framework for guidance as they work towards an agreement.”
Democratic lawmakers have rejected proposals to include reform of the legal immigration system as part of a bill to address the end of the DACA program. Accordingly, the White House framework is unlikely to be seen by the Democrats as a step in the direction of bipartisan compromise.
On the highly skilled immigration front, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Thursday introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018, commonly known as “I-Squared.” The bill would increase the annual number of H-1B (specialty occupation) visas from 65,000 to a base of 85,000, with a market-based escalator that could add an additional 110,000 visas for a total of 195,000. H-1B visas for advanced US degree holders, currently capped at 20,000, would be uncapped for individuals who are being or will be sponsored for a green card. Among other changes, the bill would eliminate the current per-country limit of 7 percent of the worldwide cap on green cards and would exempt spouses and children of employment-based immigrants as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree holders and persons of extraordinary ability from the worldwide cap. The bill has substantial support from US employers but is unlikely to gain enough bipartisan support to be enacted in this session.