The White House is preparing to release a broad outline of proposed immigration reforms aimed at unifying congressional Republicans on the issue, following months of discussions between senior adviser Jared Kushner and dozens of conservative groups, senior administration officials tell CNN.
But the proposal is short of concrete details and omits discussion of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Democrats have repeatedly said they want resolved.
President Donald Trump is slated to unveil the plan Thursday, the administration officials said. The White House is selling the plan as addressing border security and moving toward a merit-based immigration system, which gives preference to highly skilled and educated individuals.
“We want to start by trying to anchor the discussion by defining border security, defining what the legal immigration should be and then seeing if we can unite Republicans around it and then also unite Republicans around the fact that we’re not looking to change the number of legal immigration,” one of the officials said. “We’re just looking to change the composition.”
From the get-go, its future on Capitol Hill is fraught, as lawmakers fine-tune their own immigration legislation.
On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would, in part, change the asylum process, saying that “the White House’s plan is not designed to become law.”
“The White House plan is trying to unite the Republican Party around border security and merit-based immigration. I am trying to get some relief to our Border Patrol agents,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters. “I’m trying to put a dent in the smuggling business and keep kids from going on a journey that’s got to be hell.”
Kushner has been working behind the scenes to pull together a proposal designed to revamp the country’s immigration system. The plan tries to accomplish six goals, according to officials: securing the border; protecting American wages; attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants; focusing on legal migration for immediate family; attracting labor in critical industries; and preserving humanitarian values.
While it’s unclear how those goals will manifest, the officials indicated that there would be changes to both family-based migration by focusing on kids and spouses and the diversity visa lottery, which allots a certain number of visas to countries “with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.”
Officials said the principles, if implemented, would shift away from a majority of individuals coming into the US based on family ties to having a majority coming in based on skill and employment.
The officials touted Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan as examples of where merit-based immigration systems work.
The point system proposed in the White House plan would take into account age, English proficiency, offers of employment and educational/vocational certifications.
“I think that a lot of people have tried to define the President based on maybe one thing said on immigration or (at) a different time,” one of the officials said. “What we want to do is be very, very clear as to what his … position is on immigration on those two silos,” the official added, referring to border security and the legal immigration system.
White House officials also sought to distance themselves from palace intrigue over the President’s decision to have Kushner – his son-in-law – lead the proposal over Stephen Miller, who is widely known as Trump’s key adviser on immigration.
“This is not about a Jared Kushner immigration plan or a Stephen Miller plan or a (Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers) Kevin Hassett plan. This really is President Trump’s immigration plan. What we’ve tried to do is a good-faith effort to solve a complicated problem,” one senior official said.
But the release of the new principles comes amid conflict within the Trump administration over how to handle immigration policy.
The conflict led to the recent exit of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was part of initial conversations at the White House regarding an immigration plan.
The White House plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration system also comes against the backdrop of a steep uptick of apprehensions at the southern border. More people have been apprehended illegally crossing the US-Mexico border this fiscal year than in any year since 2009, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
Divisions among Republicans
But even within the GOP, immigration is a divisive issue. And if Republicans were to reach a consensus, they’d still have to earn support among Democrats, who control the House of Representatives.
Kushner briefed Senate Republicans on the plan Tuesday. After the meeting, some participants said they were “underwhelmed” by his proposal.
One of the officials acknowledged that the White House proposal would be a “much heavier lift” than Graham’s asylum proposal and that not all Republicans have bought into the plan.
“Right now, we’re working with Sen. Graham and I know he’s been working with Customs and Border (Protection) on how to deal with the immediate crisis,” a senior administration official said. “This would solve the immediate crisis. But this is obviously a much heavier lift.”
And though Republicans have expressed interest in pursuing a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, the official said the White House is not addressing the topic because it “is still divisive with Republicans.”
The official said that if the Trump White House’s proposal can unify the GOP, “I think that that will help us frame it so we at least know what we want. I think that you can’t make a deal unless you know what you want. So I think that’s a very important first step towards anything. What happens after that? We’ll see.”