Trump to propose merit-based immigration reform to the US

US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the 38th annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, May 15, 2019. EPA-EFE/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL

WASHINGTON.- The United States president Donald Trump on Thursday is due to unveil a long-awaited proposal on immigration, one of the key issues that his successful 2016 presidential campaign was built on.

He is expected to request more funds to build a fence along the border with Mexico and to introduce language and other aptitude tests as part of a «merit-based» immigration system that moves selection criteria away from family ties or humanitarian concerns.

After several failed attempts at immigration reform in his first two years in office, Trump has decided to focus on redesigning the legal immigration system, without addressing the situation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US or the limbo in which the so-called «Dreamers» (people who were brought to the US as children) are stuck.

The status of the «Dreamers» has been a major bipartisan sticking point, and contributed to a congressional impasse last year which led to the longest US government shutdown in history.

As his proposal will not address the status of these «Dreamers», Trump is unlikely to gain much support from Democrats, although he is sure to enjoy strong support from the Republican party for his suggested immigration reforms.

“Our goal in the short term is to make sure that we are laying out what the president’s policy is in terms of what he’s looking for from immigration reform, and we would like to see if we could get the Republican Party to come together on these two pillars, which we think is a very, very logical, very mainstream point of view,” a senior US official, who asked to remain anonymous, said Wednesday at a White House briefing with a group of media outlets, including EFE.

The plan would keep intact the number of permanent residence permits – known as Green Cards – issued by the United States each year; 1.1 million were issued in 2017.

But if Congress approves the proposal, those permits would begin to be granted mostly for reasons related to the immigrants’ professional specialization or levels of educational rather than for family or humanitarian reasons, the official said.

This would entail the US subjecting prospective immigrants to the country who want to become citizens to a «citizenship» test and would judge their «merit» based on several criteria, including their level of English, their level of education, their age or whether they have a job offer.

Although the US does not have an official language, the White House believes that those who aspire to achieve a Green Card should master the language most widely used in the country and denies that this would exclude immigrants from Latin America or Africa.

Trump linked the arrival of undocumented or less qualified immigrants to criminality again on Wednesday, even though there is no data to support that assertion.

«I don’t think most countries are giving us their finest. Do you agree? And that’s what’s happening. And it’s causing tremendous problems with crime and other things,» Trump said in a speech to relatives of deceased police officers.

His plan aims to increase the proportion of immigrants who obtain permanent residence because of their talent, their studies or their work from the current 12 percent to 57 percent, while reducing those who achieve that status through family ties from 66 percent to 33 percent.

It also seeks to reduce the number of people who obtain a Green Card for humanitarian reasons or for the promotion of diversity from the current 22 percent to 10 percent.

The project would end the «Diversity Visa Program,» a 1990 program that randomly allocates up to 50,000 visas a year to citizens of countries that traditionally have low rates of migration to the US, a policy that primarily benefits Africans.

The official said that the new system would encourage an even more diverse origin of immigrants than the current lottery, although he did not explain how.

He also said the plan would create an accelerated process for resolving legitimate asylum claims, without giving more details. For months, the White House has been considering ways to limit the ability of undocumented immigrants, most of whom are from Central America, to seek refuge in the US once they reach the border with Mexico.
The text of Trump’s legislative proposal will not be made public on Thursday, but «later,» although the goal is to approve it before the 2020 presidential election, the official said.

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