As Trump Rages over Border, Kushner Quietly Plans Legal Immigration Boost

Anita Kumar, Politico, April 3, 2019

Even as President Donald Trump threatens to shut down the southern border, his administration is quietly working on a plan to expand some forms of legal immigration into the U.S.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been working for months on a proposal that could increase the number of low- and high-skilled workers admitted to the country annually, four people involved in the discussions told POLITICO.

The low-profile effort to allow more legal immigrants into the U.S. stands in stark contrast to Trump’s increasingly dramatic efforts to curb illegal immigration, an issue he speaks about daily and describes as a national crisis. But Trump himself has publicly said he also supports higher levels of legal immigration, a priority generally backed by a business community short on skilled workers.

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Trump personally tasked Kushner — who successfully forged a December compromise on criminal justice reform but is still struggling to deliver a Middle East peace plan — with the priority of legal immigration. But it is a daunting challenge, requiring legislation in an issue area that has confounded Congress in recent years.

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But hawkish immigration activists, who have been frustrated with Trump’s relentless focus on a border wall, are worried that the president will be influenced by Kushner’s more moderate views on immigration and will fail to fulfill his campaign pledge to crack down on immigration. Trump already has spoken about expanding legal immigration at least four times this year.

“The president must remember that he was elected to implement an immigration system that serves national interests, not business interests,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, whose president attended a meeting with Kushner. {snip}

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Business groups have pushed for additional permanent slots for immigrants coming to the United States, saying the demand has increased since the unemployment rate has fallen and companies have struggled to fill jobs.

More than 1 million immigrants are allowed into the United States each year on a permanent basis but only a fraction — 140,000 — come through employment categories. The rest are relatives, refugees or immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. These numbers don’t include immigrants allowed entry for temporary or seasonal work.

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Kushner’s plan might not lead to a net increase in legal immigration. He is being urged to offset his increases with reductions in other forms of legal immigration. An expansion in the number of legal immigrants allowed into the U.S. for work could be tied to reductions in the number of immigrants sponsored by family members or immigrants who are awarded green cards through the diversity visa lottery program, according to the four people involved in the discussions.

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Later, when he was asked by a reporter if he was changing his policy, he said, “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in. We need people.”

Kushner is considering increases in the number of low- and high-skilled workers, as well as permanent and temporary workers, according to the four people familiar with the discussions. In public, Trump and his allies have spoken mostly about high-skilled workers.

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Several administration officials caution that the effort is still in its early stages with Kushner still trying to gauge whether there’s enough room for a bipartisan compromise that could be passed into law. {snip}

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The White House has been divided on immigration throughout Trump’s presidency between Miller’s hard-line camp, which largely reflects Trump’s views, and others — including Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump — who hold more moderate positions.

“The different factions in the White House represent different factions among Republicans,” said an immigration activist, who has been to two meetings and speaks to the White House regularly. “It sure looks like the folks who want an expansion are winning.”

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