By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO — President Donald Trump is pushing to overhaul the nation’s legal immigration system.

It would place an emphasis on skills and education over family ties.

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“The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12% to 57% and we would like to see if we can even go higher,” Trump said.

The Trump program would keep the number of green cards awarded each year at 1.1 million. And the president says immigrants must be financially self-sufficient. Those who don’t qualify, he says, will be sent home.

This would be a sweeping change, and the proposal is drawing fire from Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who herself is an immigrant.

“Make no mistake, this plan would have a devastating effect on millions of people around the world, who like me have dreams of coming to this land of opportunity,” Omar said.

WCCO-TV spoke with a local immigration attorney who told us 66% of current immigrants to the United States and to Minnesota have a relative who is a U.S. citizen — and these applicants have been waiting for years.

(credit: CBS)

“The current wait is 13 years,” Attorney Esteban Rivera said.

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Rivera says it’s wrong to think family members are currently getting in easily. Rivera himself emigrated from Ecuador in 2007, and became a U.S. citizen in 2011.

In 2014, he helped his three siblings In Ecuador apply to immigrate legally to the U.S. The wait time for their green card processing is 13 years – which is 2027. Rivera is not sure if under the Trump plan their applications will be sped up.

“My siblings are highly educated. My sister is an architect, my brother is a doctor, and my other sister is an attorney,” Rivera said.

But Rivera says low-skilled immigrants are also needed. He is currently working with an Iowa farmer who is desperately trying to bring workers here legally from Mexico for this summer’s harvest.

“We might not have enough low-skilled workers to satisfy the needs of the country,” Rivera said.

A 13-year wait for a green card review for a sibling may sound like a lot, but it is right in the middle. For Mexicans, the wait is even longer. The federal government is now processing green card visas for Mexicans with a U.S. citizen family member that were applied for back in December of 1998 — a wait of more than 20 years.

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The president does need Congressional approval for his plan. If he doesn’t get it, look for this to be an issue in the 2020 election.

Esme Murphy