Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half

But by endorsing legal immigration cuts, a move he has long supported, Mr. Trump returned to a theme that has defined his short political career and excites his conservative base at a time when his poll numbers continue to sink. Just 33 percent of Americans approved of his performance in the latest Quinnipiac University survey, the lowest rating of his presidency, and down from 40 percent a month ago.

Democrats and some Republicans quickly criticized the move. “Instead of catching criminals, Trump wants to tear apart communities and punish immigrant families that are making valuable contributions to our economy,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “That’s not what America stands for.”

The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, would institute a merit-based system to determine who is admitted to the country and granted legal residency green cards, favoring applicants based on skills, education and language ability rather than relations with people already here. The proposal revives an idea included in broader immigration legislation supported by President George W. Bush that died in 2007.

More than one million people are granted legal residency each year, and the proposal would reduce that by 41 percent in its first year and 50 percent by its 10th year, according to projections cited by its sponsors. The reductions would come largely from those brought in through family connections. The number of immigrants granted legal residency on the basis of job skills, about 140,000, would remain roughly the same.

Under the current system, most legal immigrants are admitted to the United States based on family ties. American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for an unrestricted number of visas, while siblings and adult children are given preferences for a limited number of visas available to them. Legal permanent residents holding green cards can also sponsor spouses and children.

In 2014, 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members. Just 15 percent entered through employment-based preferences, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent research organization. But that does not mean that those who came in on family ties were necessarily low skilled or uneducated.

The legislation would award points based on education, ability to speak English, high-paying…

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