Immigration for the 'best people'? For Trump family, that's relative
For a man who presents himself as a champion of ordinary people, President Donald Trump's new immigration plan sounds not just elitist but aggressively elitist.
That's not all bad, of course. At first blush, the president's wish for an immigration policy aimed at inviting "top talent" to the nation sounds pretty good, especially in the downright poetic language of the speech he read Thursday in the Rose Garden.
"We discriminate against genius," Trump said, criticizing current family-based policies that he said give too much preference to the relatives of people who already are here. "We discriminate against brilliance. We won't anymore, once we get this passed."
No, Trump's proposed policy changes, led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, would focus on building up border security and changing the nation's green card system to a merit-based system that would favor people with high-level skills, degrees and job offers.
Currently about two-thirds of green cards go to those who have family ties and only about 12% go to those with specific skills -- the ones Trump calls "merit-based." Under Trump's White House, that ratio would flip so that about 57% of all green cards would go to highly skilled workers and only a third to family, with a priority given to spouses and children.
In other words, even the parents of first lady Melania Trump, whom she probably brought over through that same family unification process after she immigrated from Slovenia in 1996, probably would have faced more obstacles under her husband's plan.
And even without poking our noses into the first family's affairs, many of us Americans might well wonder what happened to the invitation at the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ..." -- a sentiment that senior Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller dismissed as having been "added later" to the original statue.
Right. That's sort of like trying to dismiss the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that ended slavery because they were only "added later" to the Constitution. No, "The New Colossus," Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty does not carry the force of law, but it does express some of the noblest sentiments that inspire us Americans as we think about ourselves.
And our self-image, what we think of ourselves and where we hope to go as Americans, is what our immigration policy is fundamentally about. That's why I think this new attempt by Trump to overhaul our immigration policy appears to be doomed, not so much by what it says but by what it fails to address.
Democrats, for example, noticed the conspicuous absence from Trump's 25-minute address of the "Dreamers," immigrants who were brought to this country as children and are living here illegally through no fault of their own. Most have done quite well as educated and productive citizens by the standards of "merit" that Trump and most of the rest of us seek. Yet, despite Trump's earlier promises to resolve the "Dreamer" dilemma, a White House spokesperson said the subject was left out of the president's speech because it was too divisive.
Republicans and other conservatives such as commentator Ann Coulter, who broke with Trump over lack of progress on his promised border wall, attacked the plan for shifting priorities among green card recipients without reducing their numbers from the more than 1 million now issued per year. A "rube-bait campaign document," Coulter tweeted, "not even a serious bill."
I never expected the simplicity-loving Trump to be very effective at reforming our immigration policy. So far, he has lived down to my expectations.
Tackling immigration helped Trump stand out from the herd of competitors in the Grand Old Party. But as president he has run up against the complexities that explain why so many other candidates avoided the issue.
His speech had lovely words but no proposed legislation to put any of it into effect. Some of his own staff wondered why he was wasting time on immigration instead of touting his trade policy or working on Iran and other international issues that are keeping us awake at night.
Indeed, two days before his speech, the shortcomings of our border policy became apparent once again when a 2-year-old boy detained at the border became the fourth Guatemalan minor to die in U.S. custody since December. We need something other than a wall to deal with what many understandably see as a crisis on our southern border. As the old saying goes, a crisis offers danger and opportunity. Our border crisis offers our leaders an opportunity to hammer out comprehensive reform -- not only to improve our processing of new immigrants but also to reduce the chaos in their home countries that has forced so many of them to leave.
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