When it comes to immigration and possible reform of America’s immigration laws, President Donald Trump continues to confuse, to intrigue, to tease, to blow this way and that, like the lion-like winds of early March.
Before his address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump indicated to a gathering of TV anchors that he was open to the possibility of relief for illegal and undocumented immigrants who had not committed serious crimes.
In other words, people who were not, in the president’s own words, “bad dudes.”
In his address to Congress, Mr. Trump had more to say.
“I am going to bring back millions of jobs. Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration,” he said to applause.
“The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers and puts great pressure on taxpayers.
“Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia, and many others, have a merit-based immigration system. It's a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.
“Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.
“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits.
“It will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families -- including immigrant families -- enter the middle class. And they will do it quickly, and they will be very, very happy, indeed.
“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation's security and to restore respect for our laws.
“If we are guided by the wellbeing of American citizens, then I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades.”
The president, according to The Hill newspaper, “hinted at an agreement that could provide some form of legal status for undocumented people, but said it would not include a path to citizenship.”
For the long-term undocumented, the Irish among them, legal status in any way, shape or form would be a life changer.
So the president’s words will not be taken lightly, or easily dismissed.
“Immigration activists say they are open to negotiating a deal with President Trump, even if it means setting aside a pathway to citizenship for those living in the U.S. illegally,” The Hill report stated.
And it added: “Democrats and activists have rejected that formula in the past, fearing that arrangement would create a group of second-class citizens without voting rights.
“But many Democrats are now wrestling with whether to stick with that position as they approach any potential negotiations with Trump and the Republicans this year.”
An offer of legality with citizenship has a clear political backdrop to it.
President Trump would tend to view the 11 million or so illegals in the U.S. as being mostly Democratic voters in the future should they obtain citizenship.
With this as the prime determining factor, legal status could be given but would not be followed by citizenship and voting rights.
Some Democrats would balk at this while granting only non-citizenship legality would infuriate not a few Republicans.
Indeed, some GOP legislators not only want to see Trump back up his mass deportation promises made during the campaign but also want to curb legal immigration.
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue from Georgia would halve the number of legal immigrants to the United States within ten years.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or Raise Act, would, according to a report in The Guardian, alter the U.S. immigration system to significantly reduce the number of foreigners admitted to the country without a skills-based visa.
“It would end green card preferences for the adult parents, siblings or children of U.S. citizens. Instead, the preferences would only be retained for spouses and minor children.”
This would effectively gut the core of the 1965 immigration reform act which shifted the direction of U.S. immigration towards family reunification, this as opposed to national quotas which had for years favored a limited number of countries, Ireland among them.
The Cotton/Perdue bill would also wind up the diversity visa lottery, a thin but consistent immigration lifeline for the Irish since the 1990s.
The bill, if it becomes law, would turn the dial on immigration again, this time in the direction of a merit-based system akin to what operates in Canada and Australia.
In this regard, it carries echoes of the McCain/Kennedy reform bill of a decade ago, though not when it comes to immigration numbers.
The McCain/Kennedy bill was not aimed at reducing legal immigration, but rather increasing it, this in part by providing a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
This article was originally published in the Irish Echo. You can read more from them here.