WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday supported legislation that would curb the level of legal immigration into the United States by proposing a skills-based immigration system.
Top White House aides have been working with Republican Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton on the bill that, if passed, would dramatically remake the current immigration system, which allows a number of ways to bring family members to the US along with job-based visas.
Cotton’s office told CNN in July that the bill will be reintroduced with slight changes, but that the goal remains reducing legal immigration to the United States by 50%.
The proposal faces long odds in Congress, where it is expected to be met with skepticism from both Democrats and Republicans. But Trump’s support could help the measure gain traction.
“Our current immigration system is outdated and doesn’t meet the diverse needs of our economy … And we don’t prioritize ultra-high-skilled immigrants. We need an immigration system that meets the current needs of our workforce and encourages innovation,” another White House official said in a statement. “Today, Senator Cotton and Senator Perdue will join President Trump to unveil legislation aimed at creating a skills-based immigration system that will make America more competitive, raise wages for American workers, and create jobs.”
Cotton, of Arkansas, and Perdue, of Georgia, initially unveiled the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act in February, arguing that the bill will “help raise American workers’ wages by restoring legal immigration levels to their historical norms and rebalancing the system toward employment-based visas and immediate-family household members.”
“We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system,” Perdue said at the time. “Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.”
The original version of the bill cut back on what’s referred to as “chain migration,” ways of immigrating to the United States that are based on family or not based on skills. The bill would limit the types of family members of immigrants that can also be brought to the US to primary spouses and minor children, would eliminate the international diversity visa lottery and limit the number of annual refugee admissions.
The over-arching goal for the Cotton-Perdue bill, the first official said, is to install a system where immigrants are allowed into the country based on their skills and contributions, as opposed to familial connections or a lottery.
“The bottom line here is that the President believes we should have a merit-based system of immigration in this country,” the first official told CNN. “What the merit-based system would do is bring our immigration policy more in line with what’s good for American workers and taxpayers, so that’s the overarching goal, and that I’m sure is the driving force behind talks with Congress and these senators.”
White House aides involved in the current effort include Stephen Miller, a senior adviser for policy and a Trump speechwriter; Julia Hahn, a special assistant to the President; and Andrew Bremberg, a policy aide.
Trump has long said he wants to reform the nation’s immigration system, but any plan to do that seems like less of a priority for an administration that is now focused on health care, tax reform and a host of international issues.
“What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One in July. “But our country and political forces are not ready yet.”