WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is trying to revive a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, anticipating that a looming Supreme Court ruling on an Obama-era program that protects young, undocumented immigrants could give the nettlesome issue new life.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner met with Republican senators at the White House on Thursday to discuss a range of immigration issues, including construction of the president’s long-desired border wall, crossings at the border, potential immigration legislation and the case before the Supreme Court. That case could decide the fate of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, then protected by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
White House aides have also briefed Senate Republican leaders and business groups in recent weeks.
The proposal is nearly identical to one that Mr. Kushner tried to push last year, with little open support from business leaders and none from Democrats.
It would decrease the number of family-based immigration visas and increase employment-based visas, according to people briefed on the plan. The White House has insisted it would streamline the process and make it easier for H-1B high-skilled worker visas to be obtained. But some activists say that it would most likely toughen the standards for applying for asylum, and that a new application process would make securing H-1B visas more difficult, not easier.
That could effectively reduce the number of legal immigrants at a time when even the White House’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is privately saying the economy is “desperate” for more immigrants.
So far, immigration hawks and many business groups, long covetous of more H-1B visas, have remained cool to Mr. Kushner’s suggestions, and it is unclear whether the plan is anything more than a framework to point to after the Supreme Court rules on the legality of Mr. Trump’s ending of DACA, which he declared over in September 2017.
The court is expected to rule no later than June, meaning that as he seeks re-election, Mr. Trump could have to decide whether to start deporting young immigrants who have known no other home than the United States. Such immigrants, known as Dreamers, have long been the sympathetic face of Democratic efforts to loosen immigration restrictions.
Matthew T. Albence, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in January that the agency would move forward with deporting Dreamers if the court rescinded the law. But Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday that it was “very hard to say a blanket yes or a blanket no” on whether DACA recipients would be deported.
After Thursday’s White House meeting, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who attended, said the main message was that if Mr. Trump “wins in court with DACA, we’re not going to let these people have their lives ruined, but we also want to address why we have these problems.”
Administration officials have indicated that some form of Mr. Kushner’s plan would be the president’s offer after the Supreme Court rules. But the plan notably does not address how to handle the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who would face deportation if the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump’s administration lawfully lifted their protections.
Instead, Mr. Kushner has focused on the structure of legal immigration and immigration law enforcement. The immigration plan would create a new director position to oversee the Department of Homeland Security’s three immigration-related agencies: ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In preliminary meetings with homeland security representatives, the officials expressed concern over what the plan would mean for agencies within the department that are not focused on deportations, such as port officers and special agents with Homeland Security Investigations, according to an official familiar with the briefings.
With unemployment low and business demand for skilled workers high, the plan’s focus seems curious, analysts said. Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said raising costs on employment visas and establishing a more cumbersome approval process with the Labor Department would send “a strong signal against employment-based immigrants.”
“So it’s extremely surprising to hear that they’ll be making it more difficult for companies to recruit the best and brightest in the world,” Ms. Pierce said.
Trump administration policies have already restricted the flow of legal immigration. Mr. Trump in October cut the refugee cap to 18,000 slots, the lowest in the history of the United States. His travel ban, extended last month to a total of 13 countries, as well as increased vetting and additional interviews for immigration visas, has also restricted the ability of foreigners to work in the United States and relatives to reunite with their families.
The number of visas issued to foreigners abroad looking to immigrate to the United States has declined by about 25 percent, to 462,422 in the 2019 fiscal year from 617,752 in 2016.
While Mr. Trump’s policies have diminished the flow of immigrants to the United States, he prefers to emphasize his border crackdown and the construction of a wall on the southwestern border.
But after nine months of declining border crossings, Mark A. Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said on Thursday that immigration authorities took 37,119 migrants into custody at the border in February, up from 36,660 the month before.
That is still far less than the 76,545 migrants taken into custody in February 2019, a fact that White House officials highlighted during the meeting on Thursday.
Zach Montague contributed reporting.