President Trump detailed a draft version of his immigration plan for Republican senators Tuesday, calling for overall levels of legal immigration to remain the same but for the government to prioritize workers with prized skills over extended family members looking to reunite.
The bill would also “close all the loopholes” that illegal immigrants are using to gain a foothold in the U.S., making good on Mr. Trump’s border security plans, a senior administration official said.
While still a work in progress, the plan marks an important ante for the White House amid ongoing demands for a comprehensive immigration debate that would go beyond the border security fracas that has dominated the first two years of Mr. Trump’s tenure.
The president shared the plan with a dozen conservative Republican senators during a meeting at the White House, promising them the changes will have the effect of boosting U.S. workers, not creating paths for competition for jobs or pay.
“That was met positively from the senators,” the senior official said.
The White House has offered no time frame for completing the proposal.
Mr. Trump sets six goals in his plan: protect American wages; unify families; ensure labor for critical industries; attract and retain “the best and brightest” to the U.S.; preserve U.S. humanitarian values; and, finally, give Border Patrol agents more authority to enforce the law and fully secure the border with physical infrastructure and improvements in barriers where needed.
The plan doesn’t tackle such issues as what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. or how to restructure the slew of guest worker programs that allow foreigners to enter for temporary work.
“We’re just trying to unify people around what we’re for,” the official said.
Democrats are far more interested in what to do about the illegal immigrant population. Most congressional Democrats have signed on to plans that would involve mass legalizations.
Meanwhile, they have expressed opposition to past attempts by Mr. Trump to curtail family migration and shift toward more merit-based policies.
The senior official who briefed reporters said it was too early to talk about how Democrats would react and declined to say whether he had reached out to them.
The plan has been under development for months.
It represents a meeting of minds for both Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser who is seen as pushing for business-friendly provisions, and Stephen Miller, another senior adviser who is seen as the architect of the president’s get-tough policies.
But the senior official briefing reporters insisted it’s not a Miller or Kushner plan, but rather a White House proposal that everyone “is pretty united on.”
“It’s really been a full team effort to produce this, but it’s all been at the direction of the president,” the official said.
The White House meeting was held as the Trump administration was trying to win more pointed battles on immigration.
Last week, the president sent Congress a request for $4.5 billion, with most of the money going to improve conditions and care for illegal immigrant children and families caught at the border. Some of the money would go to help authorities detain more illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill are working on changes to the law that would allow families to be detained together long enough to have their cases completed and would allow illegal immigrant children who travel without parents to be deported faster.
“The administration has told Congress what it needs to address the crisis at the border. Now, it’s on us to do our job,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday that more than 1% of the populations of Guatemala and Honduras migrated to the U.S. from October through April.
In one particular region of Guatemala, 35,000 people — nearly 3% of the population — has headed north, he said.
Democrats, who earlier this year rejected Mr. Trump’s “crisis” label, now say there is a need for action — though they have yet to embrace Mr. Trump’s proposed solutions.
“We have to see what exactly he wants,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.