PRESIDENT TRUMP’S proposal to overhaul the legal immigration system by favoring educated, skilled English speakers with strong earnings prospects over relatives of current residents represents an improvement over the administration’s previous bar-the-door approach. It also is an act of political positioning, with no pretense of bipartisan appeal. Advocates describe it as an essential preliminary step before searching for compromise. Skeptics might see it as a cynical effort at posturing ahead of the 2020 elections, a view bolstered by typically poisonous partisanship Mr. Trump sprinkled through his introduction of the plan Thursday.
It’s sensible of Mr. Trump to embrace a major redo of immigration policy that is not mainly about a wall — although the wall remains in his plan — nor about reducing immigration, positions he previously pushed to the delight of nativists in his base. The blueprint attempts to forge a consensus in the Republican Party to continue the flow of legal immigration at current levels. That would be welcome, because immigrants are wellsprings of energy, ambition and pluck who have enriched this country and remain essential to its prosperity.
But the initiative omits even passing reference to the reality of 10 million or 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have lived and worked in this country for 15 years or more. They include some 2 million “dreamers” in their teens, 20s and 30s, raised in this country and as thoroughly American in values, outlook and upbringing as any of their native-born neighbors.
The White House insists its plan is what Americans want and expect from their government and leaders; in fact, most Americans would hope for a genuine effort at bipartisan compromise. This approach ignores Democratic priorities — and those of a clear majority of Americans who want a legal way forward for dreamers. Senior officials insist it’s an opening bid; Democrats, ignored in the plan’s formulation, understandably have a different view.
The plan, developed by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, would maintain current levels of legal immigration at about 1 million green cards, issued annually for lawful permanent residents. That’s an improvement on Mr. Trump’s embrace two years ago of a plan to slash legal immigration by half over a decade. A subsequent White House proposal, last year, would have resulted in 22 million fewer immigrants over the next 50 years, a 44 percent cut.
If Mr. Trump can unite his party behind the new plan, that would represent a welcome rebuff of the restrictionists. But he also would have to shift his rhetoric from describing the United States as “full” and immigrants as dangerous schemers. He would have to stop slandering Democrats as proponents of “open borders.” He would have to embrace and advocate the benefits of immigration.
It’s useful to spur debate on the right mix of migrants, which in our view would include both the skilled and educated and the kind of scrappy, hungry settlers who have supercharged this nation’s economy since its founding. The real test is whether the Trump plan is the basis of dealmaking or just a talking point designed to win over suburban voters in swing districts. As the president likes to say: We’ll see.