President Donald Trump said Friday he would seek sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy through an executive order, suggesting he might create a "road to citizenship” for certain migrants brought to the country illegally as children and shift the criteria for new arrivals to a "merit-based” system.
The new effort will be unveiled "over the next four weeks,” Trump said in an interview with Telemundo.
Critics — including high-profile members of the president’s own party — immediately questioned whether he has the legal authority to overhaul immigration laws without passing legislation through Congress.
And the White House quickly issued a clarification on the president’s suggestion he’d unilaterally open a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the U.S. and are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, indicating instead that Trump would seek a deal with Congress.
"The president has long said he is willing to work with Congress on a negotiated legislative solution to DACA, one that could include citizenship, along with strong border security and permanent merit-based reforms,” Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. "This does not include amnesty. Unfortunately, Democrats have continually refused these offers as they are opposed to anything other than totally open borders.”
Trump, who has been repeatedly stymied on Capitol Hill as he has pursued efforts to toughen immigration criteria, said he believed the Supreme Court had provided him new powers when it rejected the administration’s efforts to dismantle an Obama administration program providing legal status for some young migrants in the country illegally.
"We’re working out the legal complexities right now, but I’m going to be signing a very major immigration bill as an executive order, which the Supreme Court now, because of the DACA decision, has given me the power to do that,” Trump said.
Trump offered no specific explanation of why he believed the Supreme Court decision — which found his administration did not follow proper procedure in eliminating DACA — granted him substantial new immigration authority. And Trump interchangeably described his push as both legislation and an executive order and spoke in apparent contradiction about his plans for the DACA program.
"We put it in, and we’ll probably going to then be taking it out,” he said.
Trump’s comments nevertheless sparked alarm among some immigration hardliners, including Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, who said the proposed plan exceeded the president’s constitutional authorities.
Trump’s foray into immigration comes even as the U.S. has largely shut down the issuance of new work visas and green cards for the remainder of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a proclamation last month, Trump froze the issuance of new visas for high-skilled workers, individuals transferring to U.S. operations of multinational corporations, and those participating in work- and study-abroad programs.
Administration officials said at the time that the H-1B program for high-skilled workers would also be restructured to put an emphasis on would-be immigrants with the highest salary offers once the program restarts.
Last year, presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner proposed a comprehensive immigration overhaul that called for eliminating programs championed by Democrats, including the diversity visa lottery, instead offering additional "points” under the merit system to citizens of certain countries. That would contribute to overall rankings, with visa applicants increasing their score if they are of a desired age, proficient in English, in possession of an employment offer at a certain salary range, or certified in certain vocational training.
Kushner’s proposal was widely panned for sidestepping what to do about those already in the country illegally, and for lacking programs such as E-Verify, a system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of their workers, which Republicans have long supported as key components of immigration reform. Critics also said the shift toward high-skilled workers could adversely affect construction and farming industries reliant on immigrant labor.
Still, Kushner’s plan could form the basis for the executive action Trump is drafting.
"It’s going to be a very big bill, a very good bill, and merit-based bill and it will include DACA, and I think people are going to be very happy,” Trump said.
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