Trump immigration plan: Give me your doctors, your researchers, your top graduate masses yearning to breathe free

The initiative, which avoids hot-button issues like the status of so-called Dreamers, faces an uncertain future in Congress.

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed a sweeping "pro-American," merit-based legal immigration system to replace the current family-based system with one that prioritizes the entrance of highly-skilled migrants like doctors and researchers.

"Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant, and pro-worker. It's common sense," Trump said during a speech in the White House Rose Garden.

"It will help all people, including millions of devoted immigrants, achieve the American Dream," he continued, adding that his proposal would create a "fair, modern and lawful system of immigration" and was superior to Democratic proposals.

Trump's plan, some details of which were made public on Wednesday by senior administration officials, avoids hot-button issues like the growing backlog of asylum-seekers and the status of so-called Dreamers and is almost certainly dead on arrival in Congress.

The proposal would create a merit-based immigration system — a change from the family-based immigration system currently in place. It would also put new requirements on immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. In addition to mandated checks like a health screening and background check, entrants would be required to learn English and pass a civics test — measures he said would reinforce American values.

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"Through these steps, we will an immigration system that respects and even strengthens our culture, our traditions and our values," he said.

And putting in place measures to only allow high-qualified people to enter will help build a skilled workforce while not threatening Americans with blue-collar jobs.

"Under the senseless rules of the current system, we're not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world," Trump said, adding that, as a result, "the annual Green Card flow is mostly low wage and low skilled."

"Newcomers compete for jobs against the most vulnerable Americans, and put pressure on our social safety net and generous welfare programs," he said.

"We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance, Trump said. "We won't anymore."

Under the plan, which was crafted by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House adviser Stephen Miller and economic adviser Kevin Hassett, the number of immigrants entering the country would neither increase nor decrease, but the composition would change. The plan also includes measures to beef up border security.

Currently, based on White House estimates, about 12 percent of people obtaining green cards and citizenship do so based on "employment and skill," while 66 percent enter based on family connections and 22 percent enter for humanitarian reasons and through the diversity lottery. Under the Trump plan, those numbers would change to 57 percent for employment and skill, 33 percent for family connections and 10 percent for everything else.

On border security, Trump called for scanning improvements at ports of entry, wall completion in 33 designated and prioritized areas, the creation of a fee-based "sustainable fund" to continue to modernize border infrastructure, and modifications to streamline the process for those seeking asylum in the U.S., including expedited adjudication of asylum hearings.

Trump said the merit-based system proposal is centered around what would be called the "Build America" visa. It would recognize three categories: extraordinary talent; professional and specialized vocations; and exceptional students.

His speech marked somewhat of a departure from Trump's characteristically caustic rhetoric on immigration, with the president instead employing loftier phrases to describe immigrants — as well as existing Americans.

"We share the same home, we share the same destiny and we pledge allegiance to the same great American flag," he said.

Trump, nevertheless, couldn’t avoid doling out a few blows at Democrats, whom he said are "proposing open borders, lower wages and, frankly, lawless chaos."