National Politics

White House immigration plan may call for commission on future visas

Trump wants people to come into the US ‘in the largest numbers ever’ legally

During his State of the Union address, Trump said that legal immigrants "enrich our society in countless ways" and that he wants people to enter the country legally.
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During his State of the Union address, Trump said that legal immigrants "enrich our society in countless ways" and that he wants people to enter the country legally.

The White House is nearing completion of a proposal to revamp the legal immigration system that could include the creation of an independent blue ribbon commission that would help decide how many future visas will be allocated and what kind of workers should receive them, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

The draft proposal, which follows several West Wing meetings hosted by senior advisor Jared Kushner with dozens of interest groups important to the Republican Party, could be presented to President Donald Trump as early as this week after being approved by key Cabinet leaders and department heads.

“The proposal is definitely moving forward,” said a person familiar with the plans. “It has been approved by a lot of people who need to sign off on it within the administration, such as agency heads. Staffers are planning to make a big push for reforms. They want this to be a proposal that people within the administration and the Republican Party can be unified on.”

Giving the information to the president marks Phase Three of a process kick-started by Trump’s son-in-law last year to see if there was enough consensus among Republican stakeholders to overhaul the legal immigration system.

While Kushner led many of the early meetings, he’s been working closely with other top officials on the effort, including Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and senior adviser Stephen Miller, White House officials have said.

The proposal also looks to potentially increase caps on employment-based visas, raising the number of temporary guest worker visas while ensuring immigrants in the United States on temporary visas don’t automatically get permanent ones.

If approved by Trump, the White House would champion the proposal to the public and Congress for legislation in a way similar to how it pressed lawmakers for new legislation that met its “four pillars,” including protection for those brought to the country illegally as children, cuts to family migration, ending the diversity lottery program and wall funding.

Some see the White House wanting to recreate a 1990s federal advisory panel that had been led by Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan that would have cut legal migration by a third and served as a road map for Congress on other policy changes.

“The Jordan Commission’s primary recommendations were to improve illegal immigration controls, revamp the refugee and asylee admission system, and reduce overall legal immigration – essentially a blueprint for an immigration system that serves the national interest and precisely what President Trump ran on in 2016,” said RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement. “Why would he need to convene another commission to tell him what he already knows?”

But senior officials note that Trump - despite past support for legislation that would have cut legal immigration - has recently talked about increasing legal immigration to help American businesses attract foreign labor to work farm and factory jobs as well as fill technology hubs.

“I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally,” Trump said during his State of the Union address.

The White House declined to provide any details of the plan. In the past, the White House has emphasized to McClatchy that the president’s goals are to ensure the right foreign workers are brought to the country by replacing low-skilled immigration with a merit-based system that prioritizes immigrants with special skills.

Senior administration officials have worked hard to contain expectations, saying that Trump may decide not to pursue what is presented to him. It could be months before any proposal is shared with the American public.

But others fear a shift away from priorities of 2017 that sought to prevent the influx of foreign workers who could displace American workers.

Hauman said a strong economy “with thousands of new jobs can tighten the labor market, increase wages, and put Americans back to work.”

“We’re hopeful that President Trump doesn’t capitulate to influential business interests such as the Koch brothers and use the strong economy as justification to increase overall immigration,” he said. “This would be antithetical to the goal of putting Americans first and betray a key campaign promise.”

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.

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