Immigration Plan Puts Price on Visa

The White House is floating a proposal to change immigration laws to stop adult siblings and adult children from getting family unification visas to join a relative in the United States. The new plan would require immigrants with temporary work visas who want to apply to stay permanently to return home and pay $10,000 to submit the application.

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As Congress considers ways to change the country's immigration laws, the White House has weighed in with its most detailed proposal so far. A PowerPoint presentation was leaked after weeks of closed-door meetings between members of the administration and Republican senators. The White House plan turns out to be far more restrictive than a House immigration bill proposed last month, or a Senate bill passed last year.

And as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, the proposal would radically shift the country's immigration priorities.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: For four decades, the basis of U.S. immigration law has been family reunification. Current law was crafted in the '60s when Irish, Italian, and German immigrants lobbied for their parents, children and siblings to be able to join them. But at a senate judiciary hearing a few weeks ago, Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama suggested this puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage in a global economy.

He pointed out bluntly that basing immigration on who has a relative here means most who come are less educated and poor.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): What interest should be served: the interest of poor people or those around the world? Maybe billions would benefit from living here if they could come? Or shouldn't it be the long term, legitimate, just interest of our country.

LUDDEN: The leaked White House proposal would eliminate immigration for siblings and adult children of those here, and restrict it for parents. The document says family-based applications have become a flood, with a backlog so long it would take 30 years to catch up. Instead, priority would shift to a merit-based system with points for things like education and language skills. That idea is closer to the system Canada and some other countries use.

But the proposal has rattled immigrant advocates. Angela Kelly of the National Immigration Forum says there are already sensible restrictions on which relatives can come.

Ms. ANGELA KELLY (Deputy Director, National Immigration Forum): You can't bring your cousins, you can't bring your uncles, you can't bring your great grandparents.

LUDDEN: But Kelly says everyone benefits when newcomers can bring immediate relatives.

Ms. KELLY: It's a tight network of family members, that it serves as an underpinning for strong communities; families work together, they pool their resources, and, you know, that that really is the immigrant story, and it's a story of this country.

LUDDEN: The White House proposal also addresses illegal immigrants here now. They could stay on three-year visas renewable indefinitely. There would be a limited chance for them to become permanent. It proposes a guest worker program; participants could stay only six years and could not bring family with them. Steve Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies, says that kind of system threatens to enshrine a subclass of foreign workers.

Mr. STEVE CAMAROTA (Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies): That is lots of people will clean the toilets and take out the trash, or may even program computers, but they're not part of the American society; they can't vote, they can't serve on juries. And I think that that principle of large-scale guest worker program seems like it's in conflict with our basic notion of a democratic republic made up of citizens.

LUDDEN: The prospects of the White House proposal are unclear. Former immigration commissioner Doris Meissner says there's been no political discussion of its newest ideas.

Ms. DORIS MEISSNER (Former Commissioner, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service): There is more detail in this than we've ever seen before, from the administration. It's just exasperating that it's so late in the game.

LUDDEN: All sides say if there's no immigration deal by August, the politics of the presidential campaign will ensure nothing happens until after the 2008 election.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From the streets of Boston to a cabin in the woods, singer-songwriter Martin Sexton just ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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