US president Donald Trump has unveiled a new immigration plan, aiming to overturn decades of family-based policy with a new approach that favours younger, high-skilled workers he said will not compete for American jobs.
Mr Trump’s sweeping plan is more of a campaign document than anything else, and an attempt to provide a sharp contrast to the Democrats as the 2020 presidential election draws nearer.
It is a White House attempt to stretch beyond the “build-the-wall” rhetoric that swept the president to office, but may not be enough to deliver him a second term.
As Mr Trump heads into re-election season, his campaign sees the plan as a way to help him look more reasonable on a signature issue — and to show the Democrats as attempting to block him.
In a Rose Garden speech, he said: “We want immigrants coming in. We cherish the open door.”
Mr Trump said his new system, with points given for those with advanced degrees, job offers and other attributes, will make it exactly “clear what standards we ask you to achieve”.
Nowadays, “we discriminate against genius,” he said, using a softer tone than his usual fiery campaign rallies.
“We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t any more once we get this passed.”
Even before the speech, Democrats, whose votes would be needed for any Bill to be approved by the divided Congress, lambasted the effort and questioned the Republican Party’s commitment to families.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “Are they saying family is without merit?
“Are they saying most of the people who’ve come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree?”
She continued: “Certainly we want to attract the best to our country,” but she said “merit” is a “condescending” word which means “merit in the eyes of Donald Trump”.
Mr Trump’s new plan has been months in the making, a project of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been meeting privately with business groups, religious leaders and conservatives to find common ground among Republicans on an issue that divides the party.
Mr Kushner has complained that many advocates on the immigration issue are very clear about what they are against, but have much more trouble articulating what they are in favour of.
The president’s son-in-law set out to create a proposal that Republicans might be able to rally around, as part of his mission to give the president and his party a clear platform heading into the 2020 elections.
The statement comes as the US faces a humanitarian crisis at its southern border with Mexico. Officials said this week that a fourth child, a two-year-old Guatemalan migrant, died in US custody.
In his speech, Mr Trump promised to halt illegal border crossings with the “most complete and effective border security package ever assembled”. He did not mention the child’s death.
As part of the plan, US officials want to shore up ports of entry to ensure all vehicles and people are screened. Mr Trump also wants to create a self-sustaining fund, paid for with increased fees, to modernise ports of entry.
The plan also calls for building a border wall in targeted locations and continues to push for an overhaul of the US asylum system, with the goal of processing fewer applications and more quickly removing people who do not qualify.
In addition, the plan includes a proposal to allow public donations to pay for the president’s long-promised border wall, a key plank of his 2016 election campaign.
The plan does not address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the US illegally, including hundreds of thousands of young “Dreamers” brought to America as children – a top priority for Democrats.
Nor does it reduce overall rates of immigration, as many conservative Republicans would like.