Trump Announces New Immigration Plan
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden today and laid out a sweeping new immigration plan. It would change who gets to immigrate to the United States.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.
CORNISH: In a historic shift, the new plan would favor highly skilled immigrants over people who are coming to join family members already here. Immigration, of course, is a divisive topic. And this proposal faces rough going in Congress. NPR's John Burnett, he covers immigration. He's with us on the line from Austin, Texas.
Hey there, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: What are the specifics of the president's plan?
BURNETT: So this plan would change a half century of visa policy. The president wants to bring in more skilled immigrants, as he said - those who are younger, those with college educations, English skills and existing job offers. He wants American immigration to look more like Canada's and Australia's. They have a point-based or a merit-based system. Immigrants with higher qualifications would get more points.
Trump has always wanted to reduce family-based immigration. If you're a foreign-born citizen here, you can bring over your spouse or your parents, and today that's the dominant system. And Trump complains it brings in too many unskilled immigrants. He wants to create a whole new visa category, the Build America visa.
CORNISH: What's been the reception to the plan so far?
BURNETT: Well, Audie, even before he stepped up to the mic in the Rose Garden this afternoon, the leaked version of this plan was being slammed from the left and the right. Immigration hard-liners say it allows too many immigrants into the country. Every year, it would keep visas at the current level, which is about 1.1 million visas a year. On the left, I called Ben Johnson. He's executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. And he says his problem is that Trump is pitting one group of immigrants against another.
BEN JOHNSON: The idea that family immigration is somehow a drag on the American economy or the American community is just wrong. You know, the ability for people to live with their families is an important part of them being successful in their new country.
BURNETT: And critics say one of the big problems with Trump's plan on first glance is why - and why it's going to face such opposition is it doesn't say anything about the nearly 700,000 DREAMers. These are the young people who were brought to the country illegally as children. They now have work permits and protection against deportation, but it's tenuous. And Democrats have been insisting from the beginning that the administration has to do something about the DREAMers.
CORNISH: This plan is also supposed to address border security and asylum applicants. What does it say about that?
BURNETT: Well, there's not many specifics that he gave today. It creates a self-sustaining border security trust fund that will be funded, he says, from fees generated at the border crossings. He said his plan will screen out asylum-seekers who have frivolous claims of persecution back home, and they'll be promptly returned. But again, we need to wait and see the particulars of the plan that the White House should be releasing soon.
CORNISH: Meanwhile, John, what's the situation like at the border at this point?
BURNETT: Well, the White House continues to point to the crisis at the border to drive the debate on his immigration reforms. A 2 1/2-year-old Guatemalan toddler died in an El Paso-area hospital just on Tuesday night. The Guatemalan consul says he had pneumonia. He'd crossed the border with his mother some five weeks earlier. And remember. This is the fourth migrant child to die in the last six months. The crossing numbers are still out of sight. Last month, more than 109,000 migrants were taken into custody after crossing the border without authorization.
The Border Patrol says it's so overwhelmed it's building tent cities to house them there on the border. And it's resorting to fly them to other cities, looking for detention space. And this is an especially dangerous time to cross the river. Spring rains have swollen the Rio Grande. And earlier this month, a raft capsized in the swift current, and two children drowned.
CORNISH: That's NPR's John Burnett. Thank you for your reporting.
BURNETT: You bet, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.