Both sides blast Trump plan to cut legal family-tied immigration

FILE: A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during a rally on Aug. 15 at the White House.
FILE: A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during a rally on Aug. 15 at the White House.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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The Trump administration's proposal for a deal to resolve the status of so-called Dreamers has another aspect to it that would change the way families are reunited under the legal immigration system.

The White House on Tuesday issued a memo detailing a plan that would establish an eventual path to U.S. citizenship for as many as 1.8 million young immigrants who arrived here illegally as children or overstayed visas.

They include hundreds of thousands of young immigrants now protected under the soon-expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

But the president insists on not only funding for a border wall and national security as part of a deal, but a major change to who among family members could be sponsored by U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents to live in the country.

For decades, those eligible have been able to sponsor adult children, parents, and siblings, something that opponents have called "chain migration." The Trump proposal seeks to narrow this down to only spouses and minor children.

The Trump proposal faces an uphill battle; it's drawn stiff criticism from the right and the left, although for different reasons. 

Creating a path to legal status for DACA recipients in exchange for cuts to family-based immigration rankles proponents like Anthony Ng, a policy advocate with the Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.

Ng, a DACA recipient, was also born in the Philippines where family-sponsored immigrants endure some of the longest waits to immigrate to the U.S. legally.

"Choosing [legal] status for yourself versus having your family reunited, I think it's what, immoral? — for people to have to go through that question," Ng said.

Like some other immigrant advocates, he dismissed the idea that curtailing family sponsorship is about national security rather than ethnicity and race.

"It's one of the strongest ways that people of color are able to move to the United States," Ng said of the system's emphasis on family ties. The president's proposal "is really is about this fear of changing demographics. I think this agenda of the White House, of keeping America white, we see that in this proposal of cutting family-based immigration."

Conservative critics of family-based immigration said the problem is that it fails to prioritize entry for people with advanced education or needed job skills.

"Everybody is for giving special immigration rights to husbands, wives, and little kids," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates for immigration restrictions.

"But when you are talking about adult relatives, adult siblings, adult sons and daughters, parents, these people have families and lives of their own, and there is no reason they should be given this kind of priority or special prerogatives to move to the United States when they don’t have to demonstrate any particular skill, or education, or ability that would distinguish them and show how they could contribute," Krikorian said.

He said while he supports cutting back on family-based migration, he's dismayed with the part of Trump's proposal that would grandfather in possible immigrants who are still waiting in line for entry.

He and other critics on the right are also upset that nearly 2 million young, unauthorized immigrants could get on a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship. That far exceeds current DACA recipients, who number as many as 800,000.

"There is just no justification, it seems, for this extraordinary act of mercy," Krikorian said. 

The White House's proposal to restrict legal immigration system is similar to that proposed in a Senate bill known as the RAISE Act. Introduced last year, it proposed reducing family-based immigration in exchange for a "merit-based" immigration system favoring the highly educated and highly skilled. The Trump administration endorsed the bill, but has not progressed through Congress. 

The White House has also proposed eliminating the diversity visa lottery that allows those from low migration countries a chance to enter the U.S. Those visas would instead be applied to meeting backlogs in other visa categories under the Trump plan.