WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump threw his support Wednesday behind legislation that looks to curb the level of legal immigration into the United States by proposing a skills-based immigration system.
Trump backed the effort from Republican Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton in a speech at the White House. But the plan faces long odds in Congress.
Top White House aides have been working with Perdue and Cotton on the bill that — if passed — would dramatically remake the current immigration system, which allows a number of ways to bring family members to the U.S. along with job-based visas.
Trump cast the proposal as a way to protect American workers by reducing unskilled immigration and creating a merit-based system that grades possible immigrants based on their ability to work in the United States.
“It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers,” Trump said of the current immigration system, specifically citing low-income and minority workers.
The bill, Trump said, “would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”
The effort is expected to be met with skepticism from Democrats and Republicans. But Trump’s support could help the measure gain traction.
Cotton, of Arkansas, and Perdue, of Georgia, initially unveiled the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act in February, arguing it bill will “help raise American workers’ wages by restoring legal immigration levels to their historical norms and rebalancing the system toward employment-based visas and immediate-family household members.”
“We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system,” Perdue said at the time. “Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.”
Cotton’s office said in July that the bill will be reintroduced with slight changes, but that the goal remains reducing legal immigration to the United States by 50 percent.
The original version of the bill cut back on what’s referred to as “chain migration,” ways of immigrating to the United States that are based on family or not based on skills.
The bill would limit the types of family members of immigrants that can also be brought to the U.S. to primarily spouses and minor children, would eliminate the international diversity visa lottery and limit the number of annual refugee admissions.
White House aides involved in the current effort include Stephen Miller, a senior adviser for policy and a Trump speechwriter; Julia Hahn, a special assistant to the President; and Andrew Bremberg, a policy aide.
Trump has long said he wants to reform the nation’s immigration system, but any plan to do that seems like less of a priority for an administration that is now focused on health care, tax reform and a host of international issues.
“What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan,” Trump said in July. “But our country and political forces are not ready yet.”