U.S. President Donald Trump used a large chunk of his State of the Union address Tuesday to talk about the immigration reforms he wants to see.
He called his four-part plan one that would create a “safe, modern and lawful immigration system,” while Democrats described the president’s approach as “insulting” and “heartless.”
The first part of Trump’s proposal would create a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million immigrants who came to the country illegally when they were children.
Nearly 800,000 of that group were protected under an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that allowed them to live and work legally. But Trump ordered an end to DACA last year, giving Congress until early March to come up with a permanent solution for those it covered, sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”
In explaining his desired reforms, Trump alluded to those immigrants while stating his desire to “focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.”
“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too,” Trump said.
That line drew immediate reaction from many critics of Trump’s approach, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who wrote on Twitter, “Dreamers are Americans too.”
Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy sent a further message of support to the young immigrants during the Democratic response to Trump’s address.
“You are a part of our story. We will fight for you. We will not walk away,” Kennedy said.
Trump said he is reaching out to both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in order to achieve his immigration goals.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner said he agrees there is a bipartisan deal to be found when it comes to the young undocumented immigrants and boosting funding for border security.
“But tonight President Trump showed that he is not willing to stop catering to the most heartless, extreme elements of his base who want to restrict nearly all forms of legal immigration,” Warner said.
Since launching his campaign for president, Trump has championed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in his immigration plan he wants to add to that an increase in the number of border security agents and to end what he calls “catch and release” policies for those caught trying to cross into the United States illegally. Trump says “deadly loopholes” have allowed gang members and other criminals into the country.
He is also calling for ending the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or green card lottery, in favor of what he called a “more merit-based system” that would bring skilled workers who “contribute to our society and who will love and respect our country.”
The program is the immigration route for those who do not have family in the United States or an employer to sponsor them, and who are not refugees. It requires a high school diploma and two years of work experience. Each year, up to 50,000 people are selected.
In the final part of his plan, Trump wants to limit family-based immigration to spouses and minor children.
The current system allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a wider range of family members, including parents, siblings, and adult children. For non-parent relatives, applications can include years of waiting and are subject to quotas for the number of immigrant visas that are granted.
A Democratic lawmaker from the state of Virginia, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, rejected Trump’s immigration vision, saying he threatens to bring the country back to a time in which people are judged by the color of their skin and religion instead of their character.
“Immigrant families – who have given new life to the American dream through their arduous work and trust in American values – are facing uncertainty, anxiety and terror under President Trump,” she said, giving a response to Trump’s speech in Spanish. “He has replaced equality with intolerance, replaced mutual respect with racism.”
Guzman criticized Trump’s executive orders banning travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, plus North Korea and Venezuela as a “hateful, immoral ban against our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
The Trump administration says the ban is necessary to protect national security and has rejected those who say the policy, and another limiting refugee arrivals, target Muslims.
Guzman said Trump’s immigration plan would “fundamentally change the character of our country” and go against the ideals of the nation’s founders.
“We should not accept nor normalize the atrocious and insulting way in which this president characterizes our communities,” she said.