US President Donald Trump has proposed overhauling the country’s immigration system to favor young, educated, English-speaking applicants instead of people with family ties to Americans.
Trump’s plan, which he announced on Thursday at the White House, has little to no chance of being approved in Congress and was strongly criticized by Democrats in Congress and immigration advocacy groups.
“If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House (of Representatives), keep the Senate, and, of course, hold the presidency,” Trump said in a Rose Garden address to Republican lawmakers and Cabinet members.
“Companies are moving offices to other countries because our immigration rules prevent them from retaining highly skilled and even, if I might, totally brilliant people,” Trump said.
Currently, about two-thirds of the 1.1 million people allowed to emigrate to the United States each year are given green cards granting permanent residency because of family ties.
Trump proposed keeping the overall numbers steady, but shifting to a “merit-based” system similar to one used in Canada.
Trump said the plan would result in 57 percent of green cards being based on employment and skills.
The president would also end the Diversity Immigrant Visa, also known as the green card lottery, used to give applicants from countries with low immigration rates a chance to immigrate to the United States.
Trump’s plan includes proposals to increase security at the US-Mexico border to try to prevent people from crossing illegally and legal changes aimed at curbing a rise in Central American migrants seeking asylum.
However, the plan does not address the sensitive issue of how to deal with the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally - many for years.
It also left aside protections for “Dreamers” brought to the country illegally as children, a top priority for Democratic lawmakers.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Trump’s plan was “dead on arrival” and said it was “not a remotely serious proposal.”
“To say it’s dead on arrival would be generous,” said Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for immigrants.
The plan also drew concerns from hard-line groups that want to restrict immigration. “The fact that it does not even call for a modest reduction in total immigration, but instead offsets decreases with increases in ‘skills-based’ immigration, is very concerning,” said Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Trump has made toughening immigration policies a central tenet of his presidency and has vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking.