One of the biggest surprises from President Donald Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday was an apparent change on his immigration policy.
The president still wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and throw out those who have broken the law, but there may be a change in his stance about who he will allow to stay.
A trip to the Mexican consulate in Houston on Wednesday felt more like a race against the clock for Alex Cortez.
"Trying to get my papers right,” said Cortez. "That way Trump won't deport me."
Cortez said his two kids are citizens, but he's not because he was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager.
"I'm not a criminal, I'm not a bad guy,” said Cortez. “I work hard like everyone else, but you never know."
During his speech to Congress, President Donald Trump proposed giving immigrants legal status based on merits.
"Those being able to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” said President Trump. "Switching away from this current system of lower skilled immigration and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits."
Gordon Quan, a Houston immigration attorney, said both former President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush each tried to make similar changes in 2013 and 2006, respectively, and failed. He said there hasn’t been a major change to the United States immigration system since 1990.
"Overwhelmingly most of our immigration has been traditionally based on family reunification,” said Quan.
Quan said America’s immigration system is very different from those in Australia and Canada, two countries with point-based merit systems singled out by the President Trump during his speech.
However, while both of those countries have roughly as much land or slightly more land than the U.S., they each have less than a tenth of the U.S. population.
"They have regional areas they want to populate as opposed to living in Vancouver and Toronto,” said Quan. “(They) need to get them into Alberta and other part of the countries. There are different points given for that."
Both Canada and Australia base their merit points on factors like education, work experience, age, and how well citizenship applicants know the language.
Cortez said he’s worried about his chances of gaining legal status if a merit-based system becomes reality.
"Our systems, the governments don't really help us out a lot,” said Cortez, referring to those in immigrants’ home countries. "The only option we have is to immigrate to other countries and try to find a better future for our families."
As of Wednesday afternoon, President Trump hadn’t yet released specific details for his plan. Any changes would need to be approved by the U.S. Congress.