Ali Noorani: Trump and Dems must compromise on immigration or nothing will be accomplished

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

The plan President Trump announced Thursday to dramatically transform America’s immigration system is a constructive starting point to create a system that will benefit our nation.

However, Democrats made clear that compromise will be necessary to win their support if any immigration overhaul is to become law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the president’s plan was "dead-on-arrival" and "not a remotely serious proposal."


"The White House has repackaged the worst of its past failed immigration plans: greenlighting the Administration’s barbaric family detention policies, reviving the President’s ineffective and wasteful wall, completely abandoning our patriotic and determined Dreamers,” Pelosi said in a statement. "To say that this plan’s application criteria are ‘merit-based’ is the height of condescension."

If there was ever a time for compromise to achieve a bold transformation on immigration, it is now. The U.S. birth rate is declining, we have more jobs available than there are unemployed workers, and we have a significant need for skilled workers across all sectors. These are significant challenges to American competitiveness.

In an encouraging sign, President Trump acknowledged the need for immigration to ensure economic prosperity and innovation. He did not embrace the call by some immigration opponents to sharply cut the number of immigrants allowed in the U.S. legally each year – a move that would be harmful to our economy.

A big change in the president’s plan would emphasize what he called “merit-based” preference in determining who can enter the U.S. legally. President Trump would give preference to workers who speak English, have high skill levels, have a higher education, and have an offer of a well-paying job in the U.S.

A Gallup Poll released a few months ago found overwhelming support (81 percent) for a proposal to allow immigrants “currently in the country illegally” the chance to become citizens over time if they meet certain requirements. 

"Currently 66 percent of legal immigrants come here based on random chance, they're admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States, and it doesn't really matter who that relative is," the president said. Under his plan, only 33 percent of immigrants would come to the U.S. based on family connections, with most of the rest being admitted on the “merit-based” criteria, administration officials said.

But what’s not part of the president’s plan is as important as what’s included. Omissions of proposals to deal with some of the most serious immigration issues will block any legislation from being approved by Congress, as Pelosi pointed out.

For starters, the president’s plan doesn’t deal with three groups of immigrants now in the U.S. who could be deported without changes in current law.

These include about 700,000 young people who are participants in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. Another 1.6 million would be eligible for the program if it is allowed to stay in effect.

DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, were brought to the U.S. as children and many have no memory of their native countries and don’t speak the language of the nations where they were born. Many have gone to college in the U.S. and are in the workforce, yet President Trump wants to phase out the DACA program and deport them.

The president’s plan also doesn’t deal with about 300,000 immigrants from 10 countries who are about to lose their Temporary Protected Status, which they were granted because they are unable to return to those nations due to dangerous conditions.

And the president’s plan doesn’t deal with the much smaller number of immigrants in the Deferred Enforced Departure program. This protects people from regions facing political or civil conflict or natural disaster. Only an estimated 840 to 3,600 people from Liberia are designated for participation in this program, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that the omission of a solution for DACA recipients was intentional. “It’s a divisive thing,” she said.

No. It isn’t.

Democrats and Republicans alike recognize that we need a solution to enable Dreamers to stay in the U.S. – the nation they grew up in and love as much as people born here. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a successful immigration compromise that continues to leave them in legal limbo.

As Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, put it earlier this week: “I am concerned about the fate of the DACA young people, and they cannot be excluded from any immigration package.”

A Gallup Poll released a few months ago found overwhelming support (81 percent) for a proposal to allow immigrants “currently in the country illegally” the chance to become citizens over time if they meet certain requirements.

And a CBS News Poll released just before the midterm elections last November found that a majority of the public thought immigrants make America better.

We know that changes to legal immigration must address workforce needs broadly. We certainly need high-skilled immigrants, and no one advocates excluding them.

But our economy needs the skilled farmworker as much as it needs the skilled engineer. That is why implementing a points-based immigration system and de-emphasizing family-based immigration – as President Trump proposes – are not effective solutions for American workers.

Also keep in mind that millions of immigrants who came to the U.S. with little education, unable to speak English, and who worked in low-paying jobs became the parents and grandparents of doctors, scientists, business leaders, government officials, and other Americans who contributed enormously to the U.S. and made us the great nation we are today.

President Trump himself is the grandson of immigrants and his mother was an immigrant.

In research from the National Foundation for American Policy and the organization I lead, the National Immigration Forum, we found that the RAISE Act – a proposal that takes a similar approach to what President Trump announced Thursday – would stifle economic growth and would not raise wages for American workers, among other concerns.

A ripple effect from too few workers in sectors such as agriculture and construction could cause job losses for Americans in related sectors. You don’t need an advanced degree or English skills for these jobs, but our country would be in big trouble without enough people to grow our food and build infrastructure, homes, businesses and all the other construction projects we need.

Ask CEOs about what stands in the way of the growth of their companies and they will have the same answer: workforce. A humming economy needs more, not fewer, workers. And the president’s plan comes up short in this respect.

We also need to be smart about the people who are currently waiting in line. Over at Forbes, Stuart Anderson analyzed the Trump administration’s proposal and identified a major issue that needs to be addressed: “More than 4 million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs would have their immigration applications eliminated, even if they have been waiting in line for years to immigrate.”

Tossing millions of people who have waited patiently for their green cards into a state of limbo is the very definition of divisive.

The president’s plan needs compassion as well, especially when it comes to the challenges of asylum seekers at our southern border.

Restricting the legal opportunity for people to petition for asylum goes against a fundamental principle that dates to the post-World War II era: that people fleeing threats to their lives or freedom should have a place to go. Not everyone who requests asylum should receive it, but they should be able to go through a fair process.

Both sides know what has to be done. Compromising on immigration is not a zero-sum game. We can ensure our safety, foster a talented and productive workforce, and offer a compassionate solution for the men, women and children who are fleeing persecution in Central America.


While we’re at it, we can also strengthen and streamline the legal immigration system so families and businesses are not hurt.

The president’s willingness to talk about solutions is an important first step. Democrats and Republicans in Congress ought to take the next step and put sensible proposals on the table. If they don’t, pessimism and gridlock will fill the void.