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President unveils new immigration plan

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON  — President Donald Trump unveiled a new immigration plan on Thursday aiming to upend decades of family-based immigration policy with a new approach that favors younger, “totally brilliant,” high-skilled workers he says won’t compete for American jobs.

In a Rose Garden speech attended by Republican lawmakers and members of his Cabinet, President Trump insisted Thursday that his administration wants immigrants to come to the United States. “We cherish the open door,” he said.

He 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.”

Mr. 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.

Mr. Trump didn’t mention his son-in-law’s work during the address but noted that the proposal wasn’t written by politicians. Instead, the president said it had input from law enforcement personnel.

President Trump promised to halt illegal border crossings with the “most complete and effective border security package ever assembled.”

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 modernize ports of entry.

The plan also calls for building border wall in targeted locations and continues to push for an overhaul to the U.S. asylum system, with the goal of processing fewer applications and more quickly removing people who don’t qualify.

In addition, the plan includes a proposal to allow public donations to pay for the president’s long-promised border wall.

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 U.S. 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 were briefed on the plan by Kushner and Miller earlier this week. Some of those up for reelection, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, objected to its failure to account for the young Dreamers.

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.

Far fewer green cards would be given to people with relatives already in the U.S. They would be reserved just for immediate family members — President 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%.

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.”

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