President Donald Trump May 16 unveiled his sweeping immigration reform package, which prioritizes ‘merit-based’ immigration over family-based visas and virtually shuts the door on asylum seekers.
In his border-security driven speech, the president said he would like to see the percentage of visas allocated to highly-skilled workers grow from its current 12 percent to 57 percent.
“We'd like to even see if we can go higher,” he said, to applause from the audience gathered at the White House’s Rose Garden mid-afternoon. “This will bring us in line with other countries and make us globally competitive.”
“We want immigrants coming in. We cherish the open door that we want to create for our country, but a big proportion of those immigrants must come in through merit and skill,” said Trump.
The proposal delivered a mixed bag to Indian Americans, who have long been campaigning for more visas for highly-skilled workers. But, according to the plan, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents would not be allowed to sponsor adult siblings, aging parents, and other family members.
The proposal would also limit the definition of immediate family members solely to spouses and minor children.
Trump’s proposal would adversely affect Asian American families, said the Democratic National Committee, in a statement released shortly after the president’s speech.
Using data from AAPIData.com — a University of California, Riverside-based initiative headed up by Indian American Karthick Ramakrishnan — the DNC noted that more than one out three Asian Americans who receive legal permanent resident status do so through immediate family relative status. One out of five Asian Americans qualify for LPR status as extended family members.
The DNC noted that Trump’s proposal does nothing to clear the long backlogs Asian American families face before they can legally migrate to the U.S. “Married children of U.S. citizens, for example, could wait as long as 23 years just for the State Department to consider their application for a visa,” noted the organization.
The DNC noted the president’s failure to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Of the 1.2 million immigrants who were eligible for DACA, 120,000 are Asian.
“These immigrants are from all parts of Asia, with significant numbers from Korea, China, and India,” stated the DNC.
Doug Rand, an Obama administration official who is now the co-founder of the technology company Boundless Immigration — boundless.com — noted that the overall numbers of green cards issued would stay about the same.
But, he added: “If Trump's zero-sum plan became law, millions of U.S. citizens and permanent residents — including those who first arrived on high-skill worker visas — would no longer be able live in America with their parents and grown children.”
In an e-mail statement, Rand said: “Trump's proposal has no chance of becoming law in this Congress. It's a PR move that pays lip service to high-skill immigrants even as the Trump administration is systematically dismantling high-skill immigration with every tool at its disposal.”
“There is plenty of ‘merit’ among immigrants who legally came to the U.S. based on family ties and the diversity lottery,” he noted, adding that nearly 50 percent of immigrants who arrive on family-based visas have at least a college degree, compared with about 30 percent of native-born Americans.
Grandparents also have merit, said Rand, noting that they ease immigrant integration and provide needed childcare.
In his speech, Trump lambasted the family-based immigration system. “Every year, we admit 1.1 million immigrants as permanent legal residents. These green card holders get lifetime authorization to live and work here and a five-year path to American citizenship. This is the most prized citizenship anywhere in the world, by far.”
Currently, 66 percent of legal immigrants come here on the basis of 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,” said the president, noting that visa allocation in such a manner “blocks out many qualified potential immigrants from around the world who have much to contribute.”
“Under the senseless rules of the current system, we're not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world. If somebody graduates top of their class from the best college, (we now say) sorry, go back to your country. We want to keep them here,” said Trump.
“Our immigration rules prevent them from retaining highly skilled and even, if I might, totally brilliant people. We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance,” he said, noting that companies are moving out of the U.S. for its failure to retain talented workers.
He noted countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, who allocate two-thirds or three-fourths of their visas via a merit-based system of preference.
Trump came down hard on asylum seekers, pillorying what he termed “frivolous claims.” Such claims use federal resources that could better be used elsewhere, said the president, adding that his proposal “expedites relief for legitimate asylum seekers by screening out the meritless claims.”
“If you have a proper claim, you will quickly be admitted; if you don’t, you will promptly be returned home,” he stated.
Trump claimed that Democrats were proposing “lawless chaos,” while his system — developed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his chief immigration adviser Stephen Miller — “puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first.”
“Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker. It will help all of our people, including millions of devoted immigrants, to achieve the American Dream,” said Trump in his 22-minute long announcement, which can be viewed in its entirety here.
IANS adds: In response to Trump’s "merit based" immigration proposal, Senator Kamala Harris, D-California invoked her unique background as a presidential candidate — being the daughter of an Indian immigrant.
"I found the announcement today to be shortsighted," CNN quoted Harris as saying on May 16, before an Asian American audience in Las Vegas.
On the plan's intention to award immigrants certain points based on education or skills, Harris said: "We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants.”
"The beauty of the tradition of our country has been to say, when you walk through the door, you are equal. We spoke those words in 1776, 'we are all equal' and should be treated that way. Not, ‘oh well, if you come from this place, you might only have a certain number of points, and if you come from that place you might have a different number of points.’"
Asians have historically immigrated as family units, Harris added.
"It is, and has always been, about family. And that was completely overlooked, and I would suggest, denied, in the way the policy was outlined today," she said.