President Donald Trump presented Thursday a plan for "merit-based" immigration policies that does not address the situation of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children, known as "Dreamers."
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, the president offered the broad outlines of a program that has yet to be turned into a bill and which even his fellow Republicans acknowledge is unlikely to make progress in a divided Congress ahead of the 2020 elections.
"Our plan achieves two critical goals," Trump said. "First, it stops illegal immigration and fully secures the border. And, second, it establishes a new legal immigration system that protects American wages, promotes American values, and attracts the best and brightest from all around the world."
To deal with unauthorized immigration, the program envisions upgrades to border security, changes to unspecified existing laws and court rulings that alleged encourage human trafficking and steps to "restore the integrity of our broken asylum system."
"My plan expedites relief for legitimate asylum seekers by screening out the meritless claims. If you have a proper claim, you will quickly be admitted. If you don't, you will promptly be returned home," the president said, without detailing the criteria that will be used to determine what constitutes a proper claim.
Trump then turned to his ideas for revising the legal immigration system.
"Currently, 66 percent of legal immigrants come here on the basis of random chance," he said, referring to people admitted because they have relatives in the US and beneficiaries of the annual visa lottery.
"Random selection is contrary to American values and blocks out many qualified potential immigrants from around the world who have much to contribute," the president said.
"Under the senseless rules of the current system, we're not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world - anybody," Trump said. "We discriminate against genius."
The president said that while he had no desire to reduce the number of Green Cards issued annually from the present level of 1.1 million, he wanted to drastically overhaul the standards used to select recipients.
"The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12 percent to 57 percent, and we'd like to even see if we can go higher," he said.
"We will replace the existing Green Card categories with a new visa, the Build America visa - which is what we all want to hear," the president said, going to describe a points-based scheme that would favor younger workers, people with special skills and advanced education and would-be entrepreneurs.
Trump's omission of the Dreamers drew criticism from Democrats and even from one prominent moderate Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
Before Trump's speech, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the exclusion of the Dreamers from the plan by saying that the issue was divisive. Yet a Gallup poll shows that 83 percent of Americans favor a path to citizenship for young migrants.
Reaction from Democrats to the proposals for overhauling legal immigration was likewise critical.
"I want to just say something about the word that they use 'merit.' It is really a condescending word," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
"Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don't have an engineering degree?," she said.
Pelosi's Democrats control the House of Representatives and she said that Trump's "dead-on-arrival plan is not a remotely serious proposal."