DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump is calling for a fundamental overhaul of how the United States handles immigration. The president unveiled the proposal at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. His plan favors immigrants who are younger and more educated.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We discriminate against genius. We discriminate against brilliance. We won't anymore once we get this passed.
GREENE: Now, immigration, of course, has been a major focus for the Trump administration, but many of its efforts to reshape and restrict who is admitted to the U.S. have been blocked either by the courts or by Congress, and this proposal may be next. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and joins us in our studios in Washington. Hi, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: All right. So the president has a plan that would prioritize so-called merit-based immigration. I just wonder, like, what is the criteria that they would use in terms of who to admit?
ROSE: Right. Well, like you said at the top, it would favor immigrants who are younger, who have more education, more skills, more income, who speak English and who can pass a civics exam. All of that would be a really big change in how we do legal immigration in this country, a shift away from family reunification - you know, reunification based on family ties - which has been the basis of our immigration system for decades now. And also, this would mean shifting away from, you know, certain humanitarian immigration, like the refugee resettlement program.
GREENE: It sounds like the reaction so far from Congress has been very negative - and not just from Democrats.
ROSE: Yeah. That's right. Immigration hard-liners don't really like this plan either because it wouldn't actually reduce legal immigration. It would just change the profile of the people who can come in, but it would keep the overall number of new green cards at about the same level as now, at about a million per year. And Democrats don't like it because it doesn't really address their big concerns on immigration, including what to do about the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here in the country. And Democrats control the House, so you really can't pass legislation without them.
GREENE: But could it be because his approach so far hasn't really worked? I mean, what is his track record so far in getting some of the changes he's talked about?
ROSE: It's mixed. Some of the administration's most ambitious efforts to restrict immigration have been stymied by the courts. The administration has tried to punish so-called sanctuary cities, for example, that limit their cooperation with immigration authorities. Courts have widely rejected those efforts. Today, a court in California will consider whether the president can use a national emergency declaration to redirect money to build his signature wall on the southern border.
And there are other administration efforts that are still in the pipeline. The administration has talked about punishing immigrants who use food stamps or who get subsidized health care or live in public housing. And finally, the administration has run into a fair amount of trouble trying to limit who can get asylum in this country. Remember the family separation policy of a year ago?
ROSE: That was supposed to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S., but the president had to walk it back under intense pressure, and migrants are still arriving in big numbers at the southern border.
GREENE: But, I mean, it's fair to say he's gotten some of his - the crackdown and tougher approach that he's wanted.
ROSE: For sure. You know, the Supreme Court upheld his travel ban on immigrants and visitors from seven countries, including several majority-Muslim countries. Deportations and arrests are way up since Trump took office. The administration has cut refugee admissions to their lowest level in decades. Those are maybe the high-profile changes that have gone through. But the administration's also made a lot of smaller changes to rules and regulations, and immigration experts say those things may really make a big difference when you add them all up.
GREENE: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration for us. Joel, thanks so much.
ROSE: You're welcome.
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