Sessions, Nielsen call for merit-based immigration reform after NYC bombing

Sessions, Nielsen call for merit-based immigration reform after NYC bombing
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Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war McCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' MORE and newly confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump taps FEMA official to lead agency Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? MORE on Tuesday spoke out in favor of reforming the system to drastically change who gets admitted to the country, one day after a botched attack in New York City allegedly committed by a Bangladeshi immigrant.
Speaking in Baltimore, Sessions and Nielsen pitched a merit-based immigration system, blaming the current family-centric system for the growth of criminal gang MS-13 and the entry of terrorists to the country.
"These savage criminals in our communities in America are a deadly consequence of our open borders and failed immigration policies," Nielsen said.
The alleged New York attacker, Akayed Ullah, entered the United States through so-called chain migration, the process by which a series of immigrants sponsor more relatives for residency as they become eligible.
The White House also played up the link between criminality, terror and immigration Tuesday.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE called on Congress to end chain migration, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Lee Francis Cissna made an appearance at the White House daily briefing on Tuesday.
The administration has been building its legislative case for a merit-based immigration system on several fronts.
In October, the White House released a set of immigration principles that would severely curtail legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration.
But the administration has shifted focus to immigrant crime and terrorism as its most compelling arguments for a merit-based system.
Sessions, a longtime proponent of the link between illegal immigration and gang activity, said the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security were working together to "end the illegality rampant in the immigration system that nurtures this type of crime."
And he said terrorism is bolstered by "the diversity lottery — which makes no sense and has never made sense — and chain migration."
"To say that terrorism is synonymous with immigration, I think, is scapegoating at its very best," Espaillat said.
"To single out one or even a dozen acts and to throw out a blanket statement like that is irresponsible."
While the administration has been the subject of scrutiny from the left for its effort to link immigration and national security, conservatives have applauded the move.
"I think it's important for the administration to show that what they're trying to do is make America safer," said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho).
Labrador, a veteran of several attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the House, said other conservatives have shied away from linking the concepts "because people are afraid of being called racist, they're afraid of being called different names."
"And the reality is that being for good immigration policy doesn't mean that you're against people that are immigrants," added Labrador. "It just means that you want the right kind of immigrants here in the United States."