The US president has described the RAISE Act as the "most significant" immigration reform in half a century. But Republicans and activists have criticized it, with some saying it reflects a "white nationalist agenda."
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday backed efforts to overhaul legal immigration by prioritizing highly skilled workers proficient in English, while halving the number of legal migrants able to reside in the country under the "green card" program.
Under the proposal – known as the RAISE Act - put forward by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton, the US would introduce a points-based system akin to Canada's and Australia's legal immigration schemes.
During the press conference at the White House, Trump said the draft legislation represents the "most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century."
"This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first," Trump said.
However, the draft legislation has been criticized by rights groups as well as key Republican lawmakers who fear it could undermine the American economy.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that while he supports a merit-based immigration scheme, the Trump-backed plan would directly impact his home state.
"Unfortunately, other part of (the) proposal reduces legal immigration by half, including many immigrants who work legally in agriculture, tourism and service," he wrote in a tweet.
"If proposal were to become law, (it would be) devastating to the South Carolina economy, which relies on this immigration workforce."
'White nationalist agenda'
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-discrimination group, said the plan "very much reflects a white nationalist agenda."
"Its provisions reflect the shameful agenda of nativists and white nationalists who fear the growing diversity of our country," it said in a statement.
Since February, when Perdue and Cotton introduced the draft legislation in Congress, the two senators have failed to find a co-sponsor. This means it is unlikely to move forward without further efforts from the White House.
In 2016, more than 1 million people gained residency in the US through the "green card" system.
'Mother of Exiles'
The Trump administration's stance on immigration, both irregular and legal, continues to cause controversy.
On Wednesday, senior White House aide Stephen Miller told the press that a poem written by Emma Lazarus about the "huddled masses" was "not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty."
Lady Liberty, as she is often called in the US, became a figure of hope for thousands of immigrants who arrived in the US via Ellis Island in the first half of the 20th century.
The US National Park Service said the poem depicts the iconic statue "as the 'Mother of Exiles': a symbol of immigration and opportunity – symbols associated with the Statue of Liberty today." Indeed, the poem was later inscribed on a plaque and placed on the statue's pedestal.
ls/rt (AFP, AP)