Trump immigration plan pits skilled workers against laborers

Prioritizes merit-based immigration, doesn’t mention ‘divisive’ DACA

IT’S A CASE of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for anyone who follows immigration policy. President Donald Trump appeared to soften his sound bites on immigration on Thursday, but his new plan includes the long-disputed details of the border wall and a very pointed attack on family-centered immigration.

The proposal outlined by Trump prioritizes merit-based immigration while limiting the number of people who could acquire green cards through family that already live in the US.

The president walked back some of his famed campaign comments on immigration by saying that the US cherishes “the open door” of immigrants coming into the country, but said “the big proportion of those immigrants should come in through merit and skill.”

WBUR describes Trump’s priorities as multi-pronged, with finishing the border wall stuck in among the ideas. Other proposals would place a limit on which family members can come into the country to children and spouses, and import highly educated workers for industries that need them.

Democrats have long said they would focus on immigration-related bills that include a path to citizenship for Dreamers (or DACA recipients), whose legal status is currently in limbo. But any mention of DACA was noticeably absent from Trump’s plan, leaving thousands in the Commonwealth wondering what comes next.

Even though a 2018 Gallup poll found 83 percent of Americans back giving citizenship to the young people, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it didn’t belong in this plan. “Because it’s a serious problem, it’s not included,” she said. “Every single time that we have put forward or anyone else has put forward any type of immigration plan, and it’s included DACA, it’s failed. It’s a divisive thing.”

The plan also had no mention of what to do about the estimated 11 million immigrants in the US without legal status, who have been the crux of Trump’s polarizing rhetoric in the past.

In a noticeable attempt to appease critics, Trump’s plan would not decrease the number of people allowed to enter the US legally each year. But he changes how the immigrants who are let in are assessed.

Immigrants with high-level degrees and skills will have an easier time acquiring a green card than those who already have family in the country under the new merit-based system. Officials told the Associated Press that the current system gives 66 percent of green cards to those with family ties, 12 percent based on skill set, and 21 percent based off of humanitarian circumstances.The new system would drastically change that 12 percent based on skill set to 57 percent.

‘‘We discriminate against genius,’’ Trump said of the status quo. ‘‘We discriminate against brilliance.”

He also seeks to require future immigrants to learn English and pass a civics exam prior to admission into the country. Trump pointed to Canada and other countries in saying he wants to create a “merit” points-based system — more points for younger workers, those with advanced education, and an employment offer. Trump made no mention of farm or seasonal laborers and their future.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“It is really a condescending word,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “Are they saying family is without merit?”

Behind the scenes, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner developed the policy. Though it is labeled as a “Republican” immigration plan in a PowerPoint shown to reporters, House Republicans had yet to see the plan until it was announced. Republican Senators were briefed on Tuesday by Kushner.

While most of the Massachusetts delegation remained silent on the president’s latest immigration proposal, Sen. Ed Markey said he would fight it. “Just as we learn that a Guatemalan 2-year-old died in US custody, Donald Trump unveils a plan that would make our already brutal immigration system even more inhumane,” Markey tweeted. “I will fight this proposal, and any plan that doesn’t treat immigrants with fairness, mercy, and dignity.”