Trump presses for legal immigration system based on merit

President Donald Trump set out plans on Thursday to retool the nation's legal immigration system, in order to bring more highly skilled workers to the United States, saying it was time to emphasize skill and smarts in deciding who gets a green card to live and work in America.

"We discriminate against brilliance," the President said in a speech from the White House Rose Garden. "We won't anymore, once we get this passed."

"Only 12 percent of legal immigrants are selected based on skill, or based on merit," Mr. Trump added, as he said it's time to emphasize those qualities in order to draw more 'top talent' from abroad.

The President has long sought to limit so-called 'chain migration' - where extended family are allowed to follow someone who is legally admitted to the United States - and to do away with the visa lottery, which he argues is one example of how highly-skilled workers aren't getting a preference for a green card in America.

"Immigrants must be financially self-sufficient," the President said, making clear that his priority was in attracting higher wage workers and skilled talent - not only those currently in the work force overseas, but also foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities.

"Some of the most skilled students are going back home because they have no relatives to sponsor them in the United States," the President said, arguing that he wants those 'exceptional students' to stay and 'flourish' in America.

Mr. Trump also rolled out several proposals to deal with the current migrant surge at the southern border of the United States, proposing changes which would swiftly determine who is legitimately claiming asylum, and those who are not.

The immediate outlook for the plan in Congress was murky at best; the White House is not sending actual legislation to Capitol Hill on the subject, leaving any legislative lifting to Senate Republicans, who know that any big changes on immigration must be bipartisan in order to get through the Senate, and be approved by Democrats in the House.

The President's plan includes no provisions dealing with illegal immigrants already in the United States, or with the fate of so-called "Dreamers" who were brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents.

"We have to, I believe, come to comprehensive immigration reform," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who pointedly noted the President has talked about helping Dreamers in the past.

Asked about the President's emphasis on a 'merit' based system - Pelosi bluntly called that 'condescending.'

Allies of the President said they were ready to push ahead, though the path forward was not at all clear.

Earlier this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the only way anything would pass on immigration would be through compromise.

Graham vowed to hold a hearing on the subject, and then allow his committee to vote on actual legislation; no time frame has been announced, as the President made clear he believes if Democrats refuse to deal, it will help him in 2020.

"If for some reason - possibly political - we can't get Democrats to approve this merit-based, high security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate, and of course - hold the Presidency," Mr. Trump said to applause.

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