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Trump To Outline Immigration Plan That Would Shift U.S. To A Merit-Based System


NPR's getting a first glimpse of President Trump's long-awaited immigration plan. The president will unveil the plan, drafted by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, tomorrow during a Rose Garden ceremony. The White House is sharing some of the broad outlines of the plan today, and NPR's Mara Liasson joins us with more.

Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: So what's in the plan?

LIASSON: The big switch in the plan is to merit-based immigration. The White House wants many more people to be let in because of their skills, many fewer people let in because of their family ties. They want to reduce those family ties to spouses and children only - kind of nuclear families - and many fewer people let in for humanitarian reasons or asylum. For instance, right now only about 12% get green cards based on skills. Sixty-six percent get them because of family ties. That would really be flipped on its head.

The other big change from past proposals by the Trump White House is that this plan would not reduce the overall number of legal immigrants, the number of green card issued. That would stay the same.

SHAPIRO: Is that going to upset President Trump's supporters who are hard-line anti-immigration activists?

LIASSON: Yes, it will. Restrictionists do not like this. They want the Trump administration to decrease the number of legal immigrants. But this plan would also disappoint Democrats because of what it doesn't include. It doesn't address the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country. It doesn't address the DREAMers, those young people who were brought here illegally as children and have had protection from deportation - doesn't give them a path to legalization or citizenship. Those are the things Democrats would need to make any kind of an immigration deal.

And even though this was described by administration officials as a starting point, that's not really the point of this plan. The point is not to make a deal with Democrats. It's to get Republicans unified, to give them something positive to talk about when they talk about immigration. And as a senior administration official said today, it's to show the country that Republicans are not against immigrants.

SHAPIRO: Does that mean this is more about politics and optics than anything else?

LIASSON: I think so. In the short term, it's to give Republicans something to unify around that's positive. John Cornyn, the senator from Texas who's running for re-election in his majority-minority state, said today it's very positive for Republicans to say, we are the party of legal immigration; here's how we can make it better.

The big question for me is does the President agree with that? When he comes into the Rose Garden tomorrow, will his tone change on immigration? He's been a hard-liner on illegal immigration, sometimes immigration in general. This has been one of his key issues. It not only won him the loyal support from his base. It was central to his election in 2016. He returned to the issue in 2018. He's talked about asylum-seekers gaming the system. And the big question is, does he feel the need to start talking about immigration in a different way? And we'll get some clues tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: So as you say, he's been very polarizing on immigration for the last two years. And this plan seems to have something to disappoint or anger people on both sides. How do you expect it'll be received?

LIASSON: Well, that's what's so interesting. The president generally doesn't move to the center. He doesn't triangulate. He sticks to his base. But already we're hearing from people like Lindsey Graham who says, look; the switch to merit-based immigration is a great place to start, but nothing is going to be passed unless you deal with the other issues - undocumented immigrants and DREAMers.

And but it - this signifies that the White House understands they have a problem on this issue and they want to address it. Republicans want to move beyond the wall. They don't want to be seen as the anti-immigrant party. And if the president's tone changes tomorrow, we can assume that he's come to the conclusion that he's being hurt politically on this issue more than helped.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson - thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.