NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump has called on the Congress to come together to enact sweeping immigration reforms that introduce a merit-based system while ending the inflow of extended family members and building a wall to safeguard the borders. In his first State of the Union address to the Congress on Tuesday night in Washington,
Trump offered to legalise those who were brought into the country illegally as children and ultimately give them citizenship, while cracking down on criminal gangs as part of his reform package to "bring our immigration system into the 21st century".
Trump did not directly touch on the temporary H1-B visas that are given to professionals, which has become a contentious issue with India. His administration is tightening the scrutiny of the issuance of the visas and he has in the past criticised the system saying it affected American workers.
There was only a passing mention of protecting American workers and of immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families in the speech.
"It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system -- one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society and who will love and respect our country," he said to cheers and applause from Republicans and their supporters, while Democrats sat quietly.
Currently, Indian professionals have a 11-year wait to get their permanent resident status with green cards because of national quota restrictions. A purely merit-based system like those in Canada and Australia, which the administration has proposed, has the potential to help Indians get them sooner.
Trump said that the focus would be on the nuclear family and "chain migration" of brothers, sisters and parents of immigrants would be ended.
Limiting immigration to only spouses and children of immigrants would affect other aspiring immigrants from India.
The Democrats have made legalising those brought illegally into the US as children -- referred to as "Dreamers" -- as a condition for cooperating with the Trump administration.
The President offered in his speech a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million "Dreamers", which he said is three times more than the numbers offered by previous administrations. "Those who meet education and work requirements and show good moral character will be able to become full citizens of the US," he said.
It is estimated that over 5,500 Indian "Dreamers" in danger of deportation when the current programme ends in March could benefit if they are given a permanent reprieve with the possibility of gaining citizenship.
Preventing illegal immigration would require building a wall on the southern border with Mexico and hiring more immigration and border security personnel, Trump said.
In the audience with his family were the parents of two girls who were murdered by members of a notorious Central American gang known as MS-13. He called out to the tearful parents, who received a standing ovation, as he spoke of cracking down on the gang made up of many who came in as unaccompanied minors when Barack Obama was President under a liberal programme he put in place.
"Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country -- and it finally ends the dangerous practice of 'catch and release' under which those who are apprehended by law enforcement are freed," he said.