Trump to unveil immigration plan that's still light on specifics

By Kathryn Watson

/ CBS News

President Trump will propose a change in the legal immigration system with a plan that still lacks key details, with the president set to preview the plan on Thursday.

The proposal aims to alter the composition of incoming legal immigrants, with a focus on increasing the share of highly skilled immigrants, a senior administration official told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. The plan also calls for improving physical border security.

The proposal will face several roadblocks, and specific details of the plan won't be finalized until an unspecified date in the future. The administration will need to persuade Republicans in Congress to get on board, and convince Democrats in the House to support a plan that provides no protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and restricts family-based migration.

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"Right now this is the Trump plan. We're hoping this will become the Republican plan," the official said.

The official said the White House thinks it has a good sense of where many Democrats stand, but intends to put the proposal out and gauge the reaction. "Let's see" what happens from there, the official said.

On Thursday, the president will unveil "his thoughts" on immigration and outline what he believes needs to be done. Specific steps will be released later, the official said.

The proposal does not include protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, a key sticking point for Democrats and immigration advocates. At the moment it also does not include any reductions or changes for H1-B or H2-B temporary work visas, the kind of visas the president's businesses rely heavily upon, according to federal records. Asked how long after the president's announcement the text of the proposal would be released, the senior administration official said it would happen when it's ready.

The senior administration official wouldn't directly answer whether the White House has conferred with any Democrats on the proposal, and it's unclear how this proposal would have more of a chance now than in the first two years in which Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. Overwhelming Republican support isn't a lock yet either — Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the Washington Post Wednesday she is "concerned about the fate of the DACA young people, and they cannot be excluded from any immigration package." The senior administration official estimated the White House has briefed roughly half of Senate Republicans so far.

The White House says the proposal would tighten family-based migration to focus on allowing nuclear families to migrate to the U.S., rather than extended family members. It would also encourage those with bachelor's degrees, relevant vocational degrees or higher levels of education to come to the U.S. and stay, rather than returning to their home countries once they're done with their education, the senior administration official said.

The proposal would, according to White House estimates, keep the level of green cards roughly stagnant, at 1.1 million new green cards per year. Green card requirements would include passing a civics test and other basic "fungible" criteria, as well as grant points to applicants based on qualities like age — younger is better under this proposal — English proficiency, education and an offer of employment or pledge to create jobs.

The White House believes the proposal would increase worker wages and raise revenue without raising taxes, among other economic benefits.

The proposal would also focus on improving physical border security — including physical infrastructure, infrastructure between points of entry, completing a border wall in prioritized locations and upgrading ports of entry.

The senior administration official who briefed reporters said Sen. Lindsey Graham's plan to limit asylum claims and extend detention periods for migrant families "is a subset" of the overarching immigration proposal the White House is offering.

The president, the senior administration official said, wants to lead on the issue of border security, after more than two years of watching members of Congress put forward their own ideas. The senior administration official pushed back against claims that others in the administration are behind the proposal.

"This isn't a Jared Kushner proposal, it's not a Stephen Miller proposal, it's not a Kevin Hassett proposal, it's a Donald Trump proposal," the senior administration official said.

The senior administration official who briefed reporters Thursday said the "president's mandate to us is come up with something" detailed that can unify Republicans.

But can it pass?

"Maybe we can, maybe we can't. But we're going to try like hell," the senior administration official said.

First published on May 15, 2019 / 4:00 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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