Trump’s new immigration bill is ‘dead on arrival’ — but its real value could be shoring up his immigration strategy for 2020

President Donald Trump at the West Wing of the White House on May 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/Mark Wilson
  • The Trump administration unveiled an immigration proposal Thursday that lawmakers from both parties have widely criticised, and fails to include several key immigration issues facing the country.
  • The plan would both impose steeper security measures at the US-Mexico border and give preference to highly educated immigrants with job offers, President Donald Trump announced Thursday.
  • Lawmakers and experts have derided it as “dead on arrival.”
  • But Trump administration officials told the Associated Press they hoped the proposal would make clear to 2020 voters what the Republican party is “for.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump’s new immigration plan is probably all about the 2020 election.

The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled a plan to overhaul much of the country’s legal immigration laws, pivoting to a system based on “merit and skill” that reportedly prioritises highly skilled workers who can demonstrate a “patriotic assimilation” into American life.

As both Republicans and Democrats have widely panned the plan for various reasons, speculation has been mounting that the proposal is effectively a way to finesse the Trump administration’s position on immigration ahead of a contentious 2020 election in which Trump is expected to make the issue a key focus.

The plan will both impose steeper security measures at the US-Mexico border and give preference to highly educated immigrants with job offers, rather than immigrants with family ties in the US, President Donald Trump announced from the White House rose garden on Thursday.

Read more: Jared Kushner reportedly tried to pitch Republicans on a new immigration plan but couldn’t answer basic questions about it

The plan lacks key features that Democrats and Republicans want

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as immigration experts, have derided the plan as “dead on arrival,” saying it lacks provisions that would be crucial to winning Democratic support – but also alienates the border hawks whose support Trump has long relied on.

The proposal, notably, leaves out two of the most pressing immigration issues currently facing the country: what to do about the surge of Central American migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border each month to seek asylum, and the fate of the young immigrants known as “Dreamers” who have lived in the country illegally since childhood.

The plan also fails to reduce immigration levels, and would still see roughly 1 million people entering the country on visas each year. That’s a major departure from some of the previous measures the Trump administration has backed, including the 2017 RAISE Act, which would have slashed legal immigration by half within 10 years.

Also, the plan reportedly doesn’t outline what to do about the estimated 11 million unauthorised immigrants already living in the US.

Read more: The Trump administration’s tough border policies could be worsening a thriving black market of smugglers that’s only growing more sophisticated, experts say

Showing 2020 voters what the Republican party is ‘for’

But the absence of those issues may have been by design.

Trump administration officials told the Associated Press the proposal was not meant to be solely “political,” but that they nevertheless hoped that it would make clear to 2020 voters what the Republican party is “for.”

“I don’t think it’s designed to get Democratic support as much as it is to unify the Republican Party around border security, a negotiating position,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told reporters Wednesday.

He told reporters at a press conference Thursday that Trump’s plan was “not designed to become law.”

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has touted the plan as a forward-looking vision for the immigration system, which she said Democrats lacked.

“[There is] nothing in there that Democrats shouldn’t be for,” she told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday. “The big difference between Republicans and Democrats in this case [is that] we actually laid out what we want to see happen in our immigration system.”

‘Dead on arrival’

Just about any immigration proposal would encounter similar criticism and resistance as Trump’s plan is receiving, according to Stephen Yale Loehr, an immigration attorney and Cornell University law professor.

“If [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi offered something on immigration today I could characterise that as dead on arrival,” he told INSIDER. “Any plan has a very steep, uphill battle to be enacted, and we don’t know how much the White House is going to try to push this particular plan … as opposed to just coming up with talking points and labelling Democrats as obstructionist if they don’t take it seriously.”

At the same time, Yale-Loehr said, the Trump plan has major flaws – particularly its implicit assumption that highly educated immigrants are more valuable to the country than those who come based on family ties.

Any legitimate immigration proposal would need to strike a balance between so-called “merit-based immigrants” versus family-based ones.

“It should not be an either-or situation where you select someone only on employment characteristics or only on family characteristics,” Yale-Loehr said. “People who come for jobs bring their families, and people who come because of family characteristics want to work when they get here.”