AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
To hear more about the White House plan, we turn now to White House spokesperson Adam Kennedy. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ADAM KENNEDY: Thank you for having me on.
CORNISH: The new plan hinges on what's been described as merit-based system of immigration. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sees a merit-based system quite differently.
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NANCY PELOSI: It is really a condescending word. Are they saying family is without merit? Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don't have an engineering degree?
CORNISH: How do you respond to this?
KENNEDY: I would say that the merit-based wasn't so very controversial to the Democratic Party not so long ago when Bernie Sanders, among others, was - were promoting such a system. What the president wants to do and what he laid out in his remarks today is both securing our border and our ports of entry, while also promoting a merit-based system that kept immediate families intact. And that's the key point. We're not trying to split up families; we're trying to keep all immediate families intact, while attracting the best and brightest to this country.
CORNISH: To that point, this plan doesn't seem to include anything to deal with what you've been talking about as a White House, is a crisis on the border. Four migrant children have died in the last six months. There are thousands of kids in custody of HHS. Why not tackle any of that?
KENNEDY: Well, it absolutely does. It actually provides resources so that we can better check goods and people coming across our borders, so we can stop drugs and counterfeit goods. It provides for self-sustaining revenue. It provides for increased law enforcement, so we can make sure that all areas of the border are being covered. This is not just about legal immigration and making sure that we're switching to a merit-based. First and foremost, it's also about securing the border and making sure that we achieve what the president set out to do for the past two years.
CORNISH: But the point I brought up earlier - you have people in custody. You have a backlog in the immigration courts that runs, you know, many months, possibly years. There is nothing to address actual processing of immigrants.
KENNEDY: You know, the president's tried multiple times to work with Democrats and try to achieve something, both to provide more beds, more personnel, more judges. Time and time again, Democrats have refused to cooperate and work with the president to achieve those goals. The president's trying to work and see what we can do, whether it's in the legal immigration system, whether it's in border enforcement. But we're continuing to make progress, and we look forward to making more progress.
CORNISH: Do you consider this plan a starting point for negotiation with Democrats?
KENNEDY: We see these as general principles that the president has laid out that we're going to work from and achieve...
CORNISH: But he has laid out that sort of thing, like going into the midterm elections. There have been other times when he has said, look - this is the time to deal with immigration. And it's not gone anywhere. I mean, if we think back to going to the Senate with a $25 billion wall plan, that was the least popular proposal.
KENNEDY: Well, let's be clear - until the crisis on the border is solved, it's always time to tackle what's going on at the border. It's always time to deal with our immigration system, as long as it's been as broken as it has been, and the president's going to continue to do that. The president has been trying again and again to provide solutions to the problem. When Congress has refused to act, he has taken action, and that's what's going to happen going forward. We're providing a solution right now. The president's laid out principles, and we hope that Democrats will join us in them.
CORNISH: On the other side, you have some folks who say that this doesn't do anything to actually reduce the number of people coming into this country, those who think the president needs to take a harder line. What's your response?
KENNEDY: Well, I think the point of this, again, is to reorient our system so that while we're respecting immigrant families, we're also trying to bring in the people who are going to help benefit the country and our economy and the society the most. I think right now we have an immigration system that's very much skewed, that's completely out of line, particularly when compared to other countries, and we're trying to make it more in line.
CORNISH: Finally, the plan doesn't seem to do anything to address unauthorized immigrants to the U.S. People talk a lot specifically about the DREAMers, folks who are already here on special permits. And is this something that you plan to approach, that you're hoping will come up in negotiation?
KENNEDY: Immigration is a very complex topic. The president has approached it from many different angles. This particular proposal is not meant to be comprehensive; it's meant to deal with specific parts of the immigration problem. Again, our immigration system has been in a state of crisis for a long time, and the president is providing solutions to various parts of it. This is a solution to our legal immigration system and to our border.
CORNISH: That's White House spokesman Adam Kennedy. Thank you for speaking with us.
KENNEDY: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.