Several evangelical leaders have praised President Trump’s proposal for a merit-based immigration system, while some are warning that it could potentially punish immigrant families who have followed the letter of the law in their quest for reunification.
In the White House Rose Garden Thursday, Trump detailed a broad proposal to reform what many on both sides of the political aisle have called a “broken” immigration system.
The proposal, which has yet to be released in legislation form, would “fully” secure the U.S. Southern border and update the legal immigration system to what the administration calls a “competitive, merit-based system.”
The White House announced in an outline of the proposal that Trump aims to not only secure the border, but also “protect American wages,” “attract the brightest talent,” “prioritize immediate families,” strengthen the American workforce and preserve humanitarian values.
The White House said that about 70 percent of the immigrants that come to the U.S. today are admitted based on family relationships or through a visa lottery. Trump said the proposal would replace the existing green card categories with a new visa called the “Build America” visa.
Trump added the goal is to create an “easy-to-navigate” points-based system. The president explained that immigrants would be awarded points for being “a younger worker” in the sense that they “will contribute more to our social safety net.”
According to Trump, immigrants will be required to learn English in order to promote “integration, assimilation, and national unity.”
“You will get more points for having a valuable skill, an offer of employment, an advanced education, or a plan to create jobs,” Trump said.
The proposal is supported by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, an influential conservative evangelical grassroots advocacy organization.
In a statement, the organization said the proposal would replace the “morally discredited immigration system with a pro-family policy that provides priority for the issuance of green cards for spouses and children of legal residents who have obeyed the law and played by the rules.”
“The current system punishes families who legally come to the United States while rewarding those who break the law,” Faith & Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed, who served on the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board, said in a statement.
"President Trump’s plan is a bold stroke that if enacted, will strengthen the family and the U.S. economy. We urge Congress to put partisanship aside and act swiftly to pass this plan.”
Samuel Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which has over 40,000 certified member churches in the U.S. and Latin America, called the proposal “an entirely viable rubric for a comprehensive plan that can fix our long-broken system.”
Although Rodriguez was one of six religious leaders to speak at Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, he has not shied away from voicing his concerns with the administration’s actions on illegal immigration over the last two years.
“The issues and ideas raised by the administration are entirely rational,” Rodriguez said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. “I commend these efforts and I call upon Democrats and Republicans to come together in good faith, putting aside their partisan rancor and to finally fix the problems we have created for ourselves.”
However, some critics, such as the National Foundation for American Policy’s Stuart Anderson, contend that the proposal would eliminate the applications of 4 million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs, some of whom have been waiting for years.
Matthew Soerens, a national coordinator at the Evangelical Immigration Table, posted a lengthy Twitter thread about how the Trump proposal could potentially hurt naturalized families who have waited years under the current immigration system to reunite with their loved ones.
“For U.S. citizens who've been waiting years for a family petition, it could be unfair,” he tweeted. “Without bill text, we can't know the precise impact on various categories of people if the White House's new immigration proposal became law.”
The White House asserts that the proposal would ensure that “mothers and fathers and children will be at the front of the line to obtain a green card.”
Among other things, the White House proposal would allow the administration to continue adding to the border wall in strategic locations and “enable public donations for the wall.”
The proposal would strengthen the ability of immigration officials to remove “criminal aliens and alien gang members.”
The proposal also seeks to strengthen the U.S. asylum system to expedite the review process and change the law to “stop the flood of child smuggling” and “rapidly reunite unaccompanied children with their families back home.”
Chances that the immigration groundwork laid out by the president could pass into law are not great because Democrats control the House of Representatives and Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate.
Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, questioned why anyone would vote against Trump’s proposal.
“President Donald J. Trump wants to fix our country’s immigration system and has laid out a new proposal that would put us on track to do that,” Graham wrote in a Facebook post. “Let’s pray for him and our elected leaders. Encourage your representative to stop fighting and work together to solve this problem.”