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Trump announces proposal to overhaul U.S. legal immigration policy

Trump unveils new legal immigration plan
Trump unveils merit-based legal immigration plan 24:25

President Trump more or less stuck to the script in the White House Rose Garden Thursday as he announced his plan to prioritize high-skilled immigrants and restrict family-based migration, a move that would drastically change the composition of immigrants to the U.S. But the proposal is still light on details and faces serious — if not insurmountable — challenges in Congress. 

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker. It's just common sense," the president told supporters and reporters on Thursday. 

The White House says the proposal would tighten family-based migration to focus on allowing nuclear families who migrate to the U.S., rather than extended family members. Here are some of the highlights:

  • It would encourage those with bachelor's degrees, relevant vocational degrees or higher levels of education to come to the U.S. and stay; 
  • A points system to rank green card applicants based on things like age and education would be established; 
  • The vast majority of new immigrants to the U.S. would come based on education or skills, not family connections, according to White House estimates.    
  • The number of green cards granted each year would stay roughly the same at 1.1 million.

Spouses and children will go "right to the front of the line," Mr. Trump said Thursday, but extended family members would be much less likely to be allowed to come to the U.S, with them. Mr. Trump insists this proposal will finally make the system fair, transparent and open to all, suggesting the current system is outdated. 

"We discriminate against genius," the president told supporters and reporters in the White House Thursday, adding, "We won't anymore, once we get this passed, and we hope to get it passed as soon as possible."

But the president's proposal won't include any protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. It's unclear if a single Democrat has been consulted on the plan so far, and some Republicans have offered tepid responses to the proposal. Some Democrats are calling the proposal dead on arrival. And a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the plan Wednesday could not offer a timeline for releasing text of the proposal, saying it would be released when it's ready. 

"Right now this is the Trump plan. We're hoping this will become the Republican plan," said the senior administration official. 

The official said the White House thinks it has a good sense of where many Democrats stand, but intends to put the proposal out and gauge the reaction. "Let's see" what happens from there, the official said. 

The senior administration official who briefed reporters Wednesday said the "president's mandate to us is come up with something" detailed that can unify Republicans. 

But can it pass before the 2020 presidential election?

"Maybe we can, maybe we can't. But we're going to try like hell," the senior administration official said. 

On Thursday, Mr. Trump said that if for some reason Democrats don't go along with his plan, it will pass after Democrats win back the House in 2020, teeing up another reason for the president's supporters to come out to the polls next November. 

Asked Wednesday how failing to first confer with Democrats or include anything on so-called "Dreamers" amounts to anything more than a reelection strategy, the official said, "If they don't want to engage then it would be part of the election. If they want to engage it could be part of the negotiation. That's going to be up to them." 

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