President Trump and his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner recently unveiled their new immigration reform proposals. Some commentators immediately declared those proposals dead on arrival. But are they? Is it possible that Trump’s proposals could become part of a new immigration reform package that Congress could adopt?
The President’s Plan
The President’s plan proposed the following key elements:
- Focusing on merit and skills, rather than family ties or humanitarian needs
- Attracting and retaining the best and brightest immigrants
- Limiting family immigration to only children and spouses
- Building a wall along the U.S. Mexican border
- Modernizing ports of entry
- Stemming the flow of low-wage labor
- Keeping legal immigration numbers the same
Let us start by considering what the President’s new plan failed to consider. The matters overlooked include: family unity, catch and release, immigration judges, the diversity lottery, sanctioning cities, Kate’s law regarding re-entry after deportation, a path to citizenship for unlawfully present immigrants, DACA and DAPA, H1B visa reform, EB5 integrity reform, quicker processing of all immigration cases, more green cards, refugee law reform and helping Latin America politically and economically to reduce the number of migrants who are coming to the U.S. border.
Let’s concede that neither the President’s proposal, nor likely any other reform proposal from anyone else today, will solve all these problems in one fell swoop. Given that fact, let’s ask: What six problems can we solve now that will give us an 80 percent improvement in U.S. immigration today?
What Could be Salvaged?
The President has identified his seven top issues. But there are thirteen other issues identified above, and they are not even all the issues in immigration today. Based on immigration reform efforts in Congress in the past and the stated priorities of the President and polling of the electorate in recent months, one possible statement of such six top problems to be addressed could be: From the President’s list – 1. Building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, 2. Transforming America’s immigrant selection system from family-based to a more merit and skills based economic immigration system and 3. Tightening enforcement measures, such as increasing judges and modernizing ports of entry. From other issues already mentioned, including ones most often raised by Democrats, top issues could be: 4. Resolving the problem of DACA/DAPA immigrants, 5. Establishing a path to citizenship for unlawfully present immigrants, and 6. More humanely dealing with refugees at the southern U.S. border, especially regarding family separations. To succeed, the reform package would need to focus on these six items identified to the exclusion of other issues for the time being, until these six were pretty much completed.
Some people recoil at the mere mention of building a wall or a path to citizenship for immigrants unlawfully present in America, but most are tired of the gridlock in immigration reform largely related to these two matters. The issues need somehow to be resolved. The outlines of a possible deal that would involve such a resolution would be an exchange of a path to eventual citizenship for the Dreamers for the initial funding of Trump’s wall, and then a deal involving a path to citizenship for other unlawfully present immigrants in the U.S. in exchange for further funding. Such a move would strengthen border security in the way Trump and his supporters want and also relieve millions of Americans from the needless tensions and problems related to the unlawful presence of some 11 million immigrants in the U.S., the big majority of whom have been living in the U.S.A. for over ten years.
As for moving towards a merit-based immigration system to attract highly talented individuals, Trump said immigrants would be rated by their age, English proficiency, level of education and offers of employment. His plan would also increase visas for those with particular skills from 12% now to 57% under the new system. A recent immigration trends report undertaken by Envoy Global found that over 80 percent of hiring managers viewed the acquisition of foreign talent as very important in 2019. Based on the report’s findings, Richard Burke, CEO of Envoy, declared that it is “imperative” to recognize the need for “a more business-friendly immigration program to fill the high-skilled positions that otherwise remain unfilled.”
Trading Some Family Options for More Economic Merit-Based Immigrants
There is some merit in the idea of cutting back on future extended family members being able to immigrate to the U.S. in exchange for more merit-based economic immigration. For example, looking at the Canadian system that Trump has cited, comparing it to the family-based priorities found in the U.S. Visa Bulletin, Canada does not have immigration visas for adult sons and daughters of Canadian citizens or permanent residents, nor for brothers and sisters of adult Canadian citizens like America has. What is more, Canada only allows for 10,000 applications per year for parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents, and then only with significant financial requirements imposed on such sponsors of their parents. Notwithstanding the acknowledged benefits of family immigration to America recently recounted in statements and articles published, the adoption of a U.S. immigration policy similar to the Australian and Canadian models could be exchanged for more flexible and humane handling of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Stakeholders Need to be Involved in Forging the Deal
While admittedly a long shot, it is the only real game in town at the moment. Any such difficult deal-making would have to take place with the participation of Republican, Democratic and relevant other stakeholders, including corporate and labor leaders, as well as with input from groups like the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council. The main point is, the initiative from the White House should not just be rejected carte blanche, but rather be treated as the opening salvo in a negotiation that possibly could lead to a breakthrough in U.S. immigration with significant benefits for all Americans.