White House press conference turns volatile over Australian immigration comparison

A White House press conference turned volatile when it was suggested a new Trump green card policy will favour Australians.

Stephen Miller.

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller addresses the press at the White House on Wednesday. (AAP)

US President Donald Trump is using Australia as an inspiration for a major and controversial overhaul of America's immigration policy.

The new proposal, announced at a fiery White House press briefing on Wednesday, has a points-based system favouring green cards being awarded to English-speaking applicants who can financially support themselves.

Under the new policy, known as the RAISE Act, the US would prioritise high-skilled immigrants by setting up a merits-based system similar to those used by Canada and Australia.

"We are proposing to limit family based migration to spouses and minor children," senior White House adviser Stephen Miller told reporters.

"Additionally we are establishing a new entry system that's points based.

"Australia has a points-based system.

"Canada has a points-based system and what will the system look at?

"It will look at, does the applicant speak English?

"Can they support themselves and their families financially?

"Do they have a skill that will add to the US economy?

"Are they being paid a high wage?"

The press briefing turned volatile when CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta, the son of a non-English speaking Cuban immigrant father, queried the importance of applicants being proficient in English.

"Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?" Mr Acosta, a vocal critic of the Trump White House, asked Mr Miller.

Mr Miller fired back.

"I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English," Mr Miller said during the heated exchange.

"It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.


"This is an amazing moment that you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world."

Jim Acosta of CNN listens during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 (AAP)
Jim Acosta of CNN listens during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 (AAP) Source: AAP

Mr Miller revealed what particular parts of the Australian immigration policy they had decided would suit America.

“We looked at the Australian system [and] the Canadian system. We took things we liked; we added things that made sense for America, where we are as a country right now.

“One of the things that I think is most compelling about the Australian system is the efforts to make sure that immigrants are financially self-sufficient and make sure they’re able to pay for their own healthcare, and things of that nature. And that’s certainly one of the things we took from that.

“And obviously the points-based system that Canada has, has a lot to recommend it. We actually took that and we added things that were all new to it, and they’re released today, and that makes sure we have a highly competitive application process.

“Look, there’s seven billion people in the world, and so the question of who gets that golden ticket needs to be a discerning process that makes sense.”

The policy, developed by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, would cut legal immigration by 50 per cent over 10 years by reducing the kinds of relatives immigrants can bring into the country.

But the legislation faces an uphill climb to get through Congress where some senior Republicans back comprehensive immigration reform, not a tough crackdown.

Trump and the Republican lawmakers blasted the current immigration system as out of date and argued that it hurts American workers by driving down wages.

"This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy," Trump said.

The Senators said they worked closely with the White House on this latest version of their bill. "This is probably our third or fourth visit to the Oval Office to work with President Trump," Cotton told reporters.

Long History

Slashing legal immigration has long been pushed by low-immigration advocacy groups in Washington like NumbersUSA and the ideas have been backed by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is now facing public criticism from Trump.

NumbersUSA President Roy Beck hailed the bill and said that it "will do more than any other action to fulfill President Trump's promises as a candidate." Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration during his campaign and signed two executive orders soon after taking office to increase border security and interior enforcement.

Cotton and Perdue said their bill does not affect temporary visas for workers in certain tech sectors and seasonal jobs that are popular with many businesses. They stressed that the legislation was narrowly focused, an approach they hoped would be able to get bipartisan support.

"We're not trying to boil the ocean here and change everything about our immigration law," Cotton said.

But other Republican lawmakers said the bill might be going too far. Senator Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, said his state is dependent on immigrant labor to sustain the two biggest sectors of the economy, agriculture and tourism.

Economists have called into the question the benefits of cutting legal immigration. FWD.us, a group that represents the tech industry said that the bill would "severely harm the economy."

The bill aims to end the diversity visa lottery, which allows 50,000 people from underrepresented countries to obtain green cards.

It also sets a 50,000 annual cap on refugees, instead of a level mandated by the president.

Refugee organisations said permanently limiting number of refugees allowed in the country goes against an American value of offering safe haven to people fleeing violence and oppression.

Trump suggested at an event in New York's Long Island on Friday, where he spoke out against violence committed by Central American gang members, that immigrants today are different than in previous generations.

"What happened to the old days when people came into this country and they worked and they worked and they worked and they had families and paid taxes and they did all sorts of things and their families got stronger and they were closely knit?" Trump asked the audience of law enforcement officers. "We don't see that."

6 min read
Published 3 August 2017 at 6:18am
Source: AAP