One good indication of the headwinds that President Donald Trump’s new legal immigration plan will face is that he keeps unveiling it without actually spelling out its details. Trump announced it last week, but we still don't know important facets of the proposal.
There are now nine categories of family relationships that can lead to the issuance of a visa for permanent legal residents, also known as a green card. Five are unlimited and are for the immediate kin of U.S. citizens (spouses, unmarried children under 21, parents and two categories of adoptees). Four categories have limits and are composed of more distant relatives of citizens and relatives of current green card holders. Just which of these categories would be eliminated or be subject to new limits has not been spelled out.
One central detail we do know is that he proposes to increase the percentage of green cards given on the basis of jobs skills — from 12% to 57%. To keep the overall legal immigration approximately where it is, family-sponsored immigration would be significantly curtailed, from 66% to 33%.
There’s a reason Trump left so much out of his proposal. The details he does fill in are sure to spark opposition. Once people learn that they will no longer be able get visas for, say, a sibling or parent, or married offspring, opposition to the plan will only grow.
ANOTHER VIEW: President's immigration road map has a big flaw
For decades, Congress has been a graveyard for bills to change legal immigration policy. In 2007, during a less polarized time, Congress debated a bill that included some of the shifts proposed by Trump. It failed to get through the Senate.
Part of its death can be attributed to the fact that it was included in a massive measure involving illegal immigration as well as legal immigration provisions. But opposition from immigrant voters to the portions dealing with legal immigration was strong. Their position was backed up by religious groups who see family-based immigration as consistent with family-values policies.
Now along comes Trump with a plan that — based on the percentages he has floated — would go further than the 2007 effort. And he is doing this at a time when he has alienated Democrats and immigrant voters with his hawkish detention, deportation and wall-building policies.
There is nothing wrong with a move to a more skilled legal immigrant pool. In fact, it is a desirable outcome at a time when technological skills are in great demand. And Trump deserves credit for ignoring the calls of anti-immigration groups who wanted to see an overall decline in immigration.
A better approach for Trump would be to focus on the doable.
There is an immediate deal to be made on legal immigration, which is to scrap the so-called diversity lottery, a program begun in 1986 that accounts for about 5% of all green cards. Its numbers could be used to increase the number of skilled worker visas.
Beyond that there, there could be some bipartisan interest in more modest cuts to family-based immigration, from 66% to somewhere not far above 50%, rather than taking it all the way down to 33%. This could be done by eliminating several categories by which permanent legal residents may sponsor their family members, while retaining most, if not, all of the categories for U.S. citizens to sponsor their relatives.
The skids for such a plan could be greased if Trump were to include something Democrats wanted, such as providing some sort of relief to "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children and have since integrated themselves into their communities.
A more modest move in the direction of a skilled immigrant pool is an attainable goal. We'll see whether the president and Democrats see his proposal as the opening bid for genuine bipartisan compromise on immigration, or just another opportunity for gridlock.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.
If you can't see this reader poll, please refresh your page.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Trump's immigration plan could migrate from doubtful to doable