New immigration plans ignore America’s undocumented millions

President Donald Trump and one of the most important members of Congress each offered up massive plans last week to fix America’s flailing immigration system and overwhelmed southwestern border.

One important piece was missing: a solution for about 11 million undocumented residents and workers already living in America.

Trump did, however, take a softer approach when he revealed his major immigration reform proposal at the Rose Garden in Washington D.C. May 16. The president no longer spoke of cutting back on immigration. Now, he wants to bring the “best and brightest” to come to America’s shores, he said.

Trump announced a merit-based plan that would give priority to highly skilled, trained and educated immigrants. Trump said he wants to pattern the U.S. immigration system after countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where high skilled workers move more quickly to the front of the line.

“While countless, and you wouldn’t believe how many countries, like Canada, create a clear path for top talent. America does not,” Trump said in outlining his proposal.

“The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 percent to 57 percent, and we’d like to even see if we can go higher,” he said. “This will bring us in line with other countries and make us globally competitive.”

In a separate proposal, the senior U.S. senator from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), introduced a four-point plan to stifle the flow of Central American families seeking asylum at border entry points. If this year’s pace continues, as many as one million immigrants will arrive, U.S. immigration officials report.

Border communities and staff are overwhelmed, Graham said at a news conference before introducing the legislation on May 15.

“We need the wall,” Graham said, but “a wall will not fix this.”

“What I’m trying to do is explain how to stop the flow from Central America and gain control of our border,” he said. “One of the most important things I can stress to you is that people are trying to get caught. They’re not avoiding getting caught.”

Something needs to be done now, he said. His plan includes hiring 500 immigration judges and increasing the time span that unaccompanied minors and families are detained so they can be processed properly.  

Trump-Kushner plan: brilliant professionals wanted

Trump’s immigration plan was crafted with the help of his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. Kushner reportedly met with industry groups, conservative think tanks, and Republican members of Congress to drum up support before the announcement.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Replace the existing green card with a new visa, the Build America visa, that would give priority to highly academic students, professionals, and highly skilled and vocational workers.
  • Give priority to applicants who speak English, are financially self-sufficient, and have employment offers.
  • Require future immigrants to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission.  
  • Authorize Customs and Border Protection to raise customs fees and fines for a fund to support border security and trade.
  • Overhaul the U.S. asylum system to make it more efficient and rid it more quickly of ineligible applicants.

Stop-the-crush-at-the-border plan

Sen. Graham’s four-point plan to slow the number of Central American families heading to the border calls for:

  • Families would no longer be able to apply for asylum at the American border. They would have to do so in an American embassy or other facility in Mexico or their home country.
  • Unaccompanied minors would be sent back home to their country of origin immediately the same way that minors from Mexico and Canada currently are.
  • Instead of only 20 days to be detained, the number will increase to 100 days so family can be detained humanely and not released into the U.S. randomly.
  • Hire 500 new immigration judges to tackle the growing 900,000 backlog of cases.

The elephants in the room

While both plans call for massive changes to fix the nations’ outdated immigration system, they make no mention of undocumented residents already living and working here, including Dreamers.

Neither do they mention recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented Dreamers to receive a renewable two-year living permit and be eligible for a work permit.

Without addressing these elephants in the room, it’s highly unlikely Congress will move forward.   

Business advocacy groups also expressed disappointment in the plans. Immigrant workers are critical to the country’s economy. Worker applicant programs should be based on market conditions, they said.

In Arizona, many industries rely on low-skilled and low-wage employees including agriculture and hospitality, said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Agriculture in Arizona is an $18 billion industry. Tourism, depending on how you count it, has easily north of 200,000 jobs,” Hamer said. “These are core base industries for the state of Arizona that desperately need workable visa programs.”

The largest business advocacy group in the world, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also reacted lukewarm to the announcements.

Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley released a statement that said something else is missing from the president’s plan – bipartisanship.

“We appreciate the efforts by the Trump Administration to spark a much needed debate on reforming our nation’s immigration laws and improving our nation’s security,” Bradley said. “Much work remains ahead of us on several issues, including the creation of market-based temporary worker programs and responsibly addressing the unauthorized alien population in the U.S., but the Chamber looks forward to working with the White House and Congress to find bipartisan solutions to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Victoria Harker

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