Since the details of the new Trump administration immigration reform plan have been made public, critics on the left (aka the Dems) and the right (Mark Krikorian) are assailing the plan as inadequate. Instead of joining the chorus of critics, I will comment on the virtues of the plan, and propose ways it can be improved so that it has a chance of garnering the necessary bipartisan support if it is to go anywhere.
For months we have known that the president has made a necessary condition of any immigration plan that it be heavily tilted towards merit and away from family reunification. From what we now know, the Kushner plan makes good on this demand.
The background of this new initiative to fix our immigration system lies in the Immigration and Nationality Act from 1965. Prior to 1965 70% of all visas granted went to Ireland, the UK, and Germany. Immigration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America was practically non-existent.
If correcting an imbalance is the goal of the Kushner plan, the plan may have a chance to go succeed.
The civil rights movement and criticism from abroad—the Communist bloc criticized the U.S. immigration policies as racist and discriminatory—contributed enormously to the passing of the 1965 Act. National quotas were eliminated as discriminatory, and immigration from parts of the world hitherto excluded—Latin America and Asia in particular–began to flow freely into the U.S.
Very few people know or remember that the original version of the Act made merit, not family ties, the foundation of the new immigration policy; but for the reasons given above, the final version of the Act made family reunification almost the sole criterion for admittance to the country. Merit was still included in the final version, but it hardly became a factor in practice when deciding who was granted entry into the country.
The Kushner plan seeks, in my view, to restore the importance of merit that disappeared from the final version of the law, and almost completely disregarded in the application of the 1965 law. Whether what Kushner is proposing represents a repudiation of the 1965 Act is not clear. But what is clear is that that law is still the basis of our immigration system, and Congress may want to challenge the plan on this basis.
Perhaps the president may be forced in the end to make the case that the 1965 Act has to be repealed or undergo a major overhaul and that Congress needs to come up with a new immigration law that mirrors the emphases and demands of the Kushner plan.
The fact of the matter, as I see it, that if nothing else, the Kushner plan can best be viewed not as eliminating family reunification altogether—in fact, it explicitly does not—but simply as a corrective to an imbalance in our immigration policy that present conditions justify.
Already in the 1996 immigration reform during the Clinton years, the emphasis on the ability of an immigrant to support him or herself was elevated to the decisive requirement that any immigrant must satisfy before he or she is allowed into the country.
In other words, since in the last 50 years people could immigrate solely on the basis of family ties, a large number of those immigrants simply did not have the skills to support themselves, and the burden on the state grew significantly enough to sound the alarm that something had gone wrong.
If correcting an imbalance is the goal of the Kushner plan, the plan may have a chance to go succeed. However, if the elimination of family ties is perceived as its ultimate goal, as many in the president’s base want and critics suspect, then something will have to be done about the 1965 Act, which enshrines family ties as the bedrock of our legal immigration system.