Donald Trump presented a new “immigration reform” proposal today at the White House that would upend the United States’ long history of welcoming the poor, striving, and needy, and reserve citizenship for people with higher education and fat paychecks.
The United States has for too long based its immigration policies on family ties and luck, Trump said. “Currently 66% of legal immigrants come here on the basis of random chance,” Trump said. “They’re admitted solely because they have a relative in the United States, and it doesn’t matter who that relative is,” he said, sounding somewhat incredulous.
This is true: About 60% of the newest US legal permanent residents in 2015 were admitted because of family ties, a figure that’s held relatively constant in recent years:
“Only 12% of legal immigrants are chosen based on skill or merit,” Trump said, and he proposes to bring that number up to 57%. “This will bring us in line with other countries and make us globally competitive,” he said. These highly skilled people will be allowed to bring in their families, he noted. “They go right to front of the line, where they should be.”
A new “points-based system” would reward younger workers, those with valuable skills, offers of employment, advanced education, plans to create jobs, and “higher-wage workers,” he said.
The reform idea was crafted almost entirely by two of president Trump’s presidential advisers, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller. Current and former Department of Homeland Security officials told Quartz the proposal has “almost zero” input from the agency. (DHS is almost entirely responsible for US immigration, including vetting applicants, and handling visa applications and asylum claims.)
Congress members and immigration experts give Trump’s immigration reform idea little chance of passing. “To say it’s dead on arrival would be generous,” said Pili Tobar, the executive director of America’s Voice, a watchdog agency.
Trump has long railed against “chain migration,” a term used by anti-immigrant activists to describe the US’s prioritization of family ties in immigration decisions. But it has been the backbone of US economic growth and prosperity for generations, bringing waves of desperate and driven people from war and famine-riddled homelands who created entire new cities and industries in the US.
Were his immigration reform proposal in place in the United States 100 years ago, it would have meant many members of the Trump White House would never have been Americans at all.
Trump has touted his Scottish ancestry, but not his family’s dependence on chain migration. In 1929, Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, left Glasgow at age 17 on the SS Transylvania to join a “well-established community of countrymen and women,” the New Yorker wrote in June of 2016. This included two of her sisters, in New York City, as Quartz noted previously.
Trump’s paternal grandfather, Friedrich Trump, left Germany at age 16 by ship for Manhattan’s Castle Garden in 1885, the New Yorker reports. He joined a sister, “Katherine, who had come to America before him, and was married to a clerk named Friedrich Schuster. He was a barber’s apprentice.
Vice president Pence’s grandfather Richard Cawley immigrated to the US from County Mayo, Ireland, along with four of his siblings, as former Ancestry.com chief historian Megan Smolenyak writes on Medium:
They were so orderly that they immigrated in age sequence with [Richard’s oldest brother] James starting things off by going to an aunt in Illinois. He then helped Richard who helped Thomas who helped the sisters — one of tidiest set of chain migration links I’ve ever encountered.
The Cawleys were fortunate. Though the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 had restricted immigration, it favored northern and western European nationalities such as the Irish. Had they been Italian or Slavic, much less from anywhere other than Europe, the odds would have been stacked against them.
Kushner’s paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors, the Washington Post reported. “Joseph and Rae Kushner came to the United States in 1949 as impoverished Eastern European refugees,” and spent years in a camp in Italy for displaced persons waiting to be admitted to the US. The Post notes:
In a 1982 interview given by the late Rae Kushner to a Holocaust research center, Jared’s grandmother talks about how wrong she felt it was for the United States to let people like her and her husband languish in those camps for years awaiting permission to enter the country.
The presidential advisor has had an outsized influence on the Trump White House’s immigration decisions, including pressing for new citizenship rules including a requirement to speak English, which Trump mentioned in the Rose Garden today.
Miller’s own great-grandmother could not speak English, notes Jennifer Mendelsohn, a journalist-turned genealogist who created #resistancegenealogy to follow Trump White House members’ immigration histories:
His great-grandfather, Nison Miller, failed a US citizenship test because of “ignorance,” but was allowed to remain in the country. His maternal great-grandfather traveled to the US via “chain migration,” joining relatives who arrived in America with just $8 to their name, the Jewish Journal reports.