President Trump unveiled an outline last week for reshaping how immigrants are admitted into the country.
The White House estimates that 12 percent of people who obtain green cards — which grant foreigners legal permanent residency in the United States — do so based on “employment and skills”; 66 percent via family-based connections; and 22 percent through humanitarian visas and the “diversity lottery” (which favors people from countries with historically low rates of immigration).
The new proposal is centered on what would be called the “Build America” visa, using a point system to prioritize three categories: people with extraordinary talent, those with professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students. The sector of immigrants granted residency based on employment and skill would increase to 57 percent, 33 percent for family-based and 10 percent for everything else.
The proposal does not address the situation of the estimated 11 million immigrants lacking legal status, including the “dreamers,” young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, or visas for temporary, low-skilled workers. But, significantly — and laudably — unlike previous White House proposals, the new “merit-based” system ensures that the net number of green cards stays the same as it is currently — about 1.1 million a year — so the overall level of immigration would not be affected.
Under the new system, as White House officials described it, there will be a two-step process that would begin with a civics test followed by a background check. Green card applicants would then be evaluated on the new points system.
The proposal, which was spearheaded by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, does not at present contain details beyond the general shift in how to prioritize potential immigrants. And it was received unenthusiastically in very different camps.
Democratic leaders criticized the plan for what they characterized as its lack of compassion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked, “Are they saying [that] most of the people who’ve ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without ‘merit’ because they don’t have an engineering degree?”
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the revised priority assignments a “despicable abdication of moral authority” that would have kept the senator’s own immigrant father from entering the United States.
On the other side of the political divide, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, a former backer of the president who has become critical of him over what she sees as his redefinition of the “border wall” on which he campaigned, slammed the plan for failing to cut the annual level of green cards issued a year.
And neither of the top two Republicans in Congress — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — issued statements in support of the administration’s proposal. All Mr. McCarthy would say is that it is “not a complete immigration bill” but represents “something we can work from.”
Mr. Kushner himself, at a briefing with administration backers, reportedly described the new proposal as a mere “starting point,” and acknowledged that the White House was not under any illusions that an actual fleshed-out plan along the lines of the proposal will easily get through Congress.
But it represents an interesting and significant attempt at immigration reform. Its fate, in the end, will hinge on the particulars of whatever legislative bill is created to codify it. Thus far, none has been written, or at least shared with Congress or the public.
What can be said, though, is that granting green cards to more skilled workers and professionals makes sense. At the same time, though, placing new and significant limits on immigration by relatives of productive citizens or green card holders is not something to be undertaken lightly.
Many are the Americans — not only Mr. Blumenthal’s father but many of our community’s parents and grandparents — who made up for what they may have lacked in skills or degrees with determination, perseverance, hard work and love for their new adopted homeland.
And today, legal immigrants who have established homes and are gainfully employed should not be prevented from inviting their elders, or other close relatives, to join them here.
Mrs. Pelosi asserted that the plan will be “dead on arrival” in Congress, and it will certainly face major challenges in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it is being criticized as just a political move to garner broader support for Mr. Trump in advance of the 2020 election.
But declaring a patient expired before having had the opportunity to examine him is hardly good medical practice. When actual legislation based on the president’s proposal is presented to Congress and the American people, and the details of its reorientation of priorities can be scrutinized, that will be the time to judge whether the bill is reasonable or not.