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By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump and aides on Tuesday briefed a group of Republican senators on a merit-based immigration plan that would let more highly-skilled workers into the United States and fewer low-skilled workers, a senior administration official said.
The overall effect of the plan, the official told a group of reporters, would be to leave the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States at about the same.
"We want to encourage immigration. But it's got to be through the legal system," the official said.
Separately, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, whose committee would have to shepherd such legislation through the Senate, described the effort to reporters as "a merit-based immigration proposal that deals with increases in work visas and decreases family visas." The latter refers to visas for relatives of immigrants already in the United States.
Graham said the more pressing problem is dealing with large numbers of undocumented Central American families seeking asylum in the United States.
He said he would introduce a bill as soon as next week that could toughen asylum requirements and potentially extend the amount of time young immigrants could spend in detention.
In recent weeks, Graham has said he would seek Democratic input, but if there was no agreement, then the "blame game" would begin, as the 2020 presidential and congressional elections near.
Lawmakers said none of the Republican measures do anything to protect from deportation the more than 1 million undocumented immigrants brought into the United States years ago as children and referred to as "Dreamers."
Administration officials said they were reviewing the visa systems used by Canada, Japan, Singapore and Australia as possible models for the Trump effort.
The plan has been developing over the last couple of months under White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and other top aides, including immigration hawk Stephen Miller and economic adviser Kevin Hassett.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the proposals are in their early stages but aim to get Republicans to unite around broad immigration law revisions.
The proposal includes recommendations for modernizing ports of entry along the U.S. border to ensure safe trade while preventing illegal activity such as drug smuggling, the official said.
Republicans at the White House meeting included a number of conservative immigration hawks, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.
The Republican proposals are expected to be met with sharp opposition from Democrats in Congress and immigration advocacy groups.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Tom Brown)