The Introduction of Merit-Based "Build America" Visas and Scrutiny Over U.S. Border Custody Practices

Published on: Jun 04, 2019, Last Edited: Jun 04, 2019 | Tags: USA Visa Requirements, USA Immigration, Border Security

Professionals look set to benefit as President Trump reveals plans to replace existing green cards with the merit-based “Build America” visa.

In a shift away from a family-based green card policy, the plan is for a merit-based visa allocation system that will favour those with job offers, post-graduate degrees and high-level skills over applicants with relatives already on the country. However, the plans face a contentious path through Congress. Democrats are criticising the scheme, as they perceive it neither reduces overall numbers of immigrants nor does it address the fate of the “Dreamers”, the thousands of children who were brought to the States illegally and have grown up, worked and raised families there, and the millions of other immigrants living in the country without visas. Republicans are also unhappy as the scheme will not reduce immigrant numbers overall.

The new plans, that have been developed by Jared Kushner, the president's son in law, aims to strengthen border security while rethinking the green card system to clear the backlog and give preference to skilled professionals. Far fewer family-based green cards will be allocated, while 57% of visas will go to professionals with high-level skills and job offers rather than 12% as at present.

President Trump claims that the present system actually discriminates against brilliance; under the new scheme, other factors to be taken into account include a good level of the English language, age and job offers. The planned change will tend to favour Indian and Chinese IT professionals, in particular. However, the move away from a family-based system to a merit-based scheme that favours immigrants with sought after skills has been criticised by Nancy Pelosi, who asks if Trump means that family ties are therefore without merit. 

US officials reveal that a sixth immigrant child has died while in United States custody

The death of the 10-year-old El Salvadorean girl had not previously been made public and was only acknowledged after being a report by CBS news; this is the sixth case of a child immigrant dying while in government custody in the past year. A spokesperson for the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) stated that the girl had a medical history of heart problems. While US border officials temporarily closed the main South Texas migrant processing facility due to overcrowding and inadequate conditions, representatives of Congress were calling for an investigation into the death of the 10-year-old.

The girl was said to have been in very poor health when taken into custody at a Texas ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) in March of last year; after undergoing surgery, complications occurred and she remained in a coma. She was later transferred to a Nebraska children’s hospital where she died in September 2018.

16-year-old Carlos Hernández Vásquez from Guatemala died in custody earlier last week. The unaccompanied minor had been held by US border officers for one week. Reports suggest that he had been suffering from flu but it remains unclear whether he received any treatment for the illness. 

Carlos is the fifth Guatemalan child to have died in government custody over the past year. Two-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez died in April after falling ill after being taken into custody. Also in April, another 16-year-old unaccompanied minor, Juan de León Gutiérrez, died in a detention centre in South Texas. In December 2018, Felipe Gómez Alonzo, aged 8, died in New Mexico after falling ill and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died from sepsis while in custody during the same month.

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