(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump introduced legislation Wednesday that would halve legal immigration numbers in 10 years. Trump joined Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., on Capitol Hill to present the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, dubbed “RAISE.”
The bill aims to prioritize workers’ skills over family ties, and amounts to the “most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century,” Trump said. The goal of the bill would be to knock down the number of legal immigrants admitted into the U.S. each year from about 1 million to 500,000 by 2027.
The RAISE bill would cut out the four-tiered family immigration category for green cards, paving way for a new merit-based system that prioritizes high-skilled workers who have a high level of English and “entrepreneurial initiative.”
“This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” Trump said.
Minor children and spouses of Americans wouldn’t be affected, but Americans with elderly parents would have to file for a new “renewable, temporary visa” for them to come instead.
Under the current system, most legal Americans are admitted to the U.S. based on family ties. American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for visas that aren’t capped at a certain number under the “family” category. Siblings and adult children of Americans and children of green card holders can get sponsored but are listed as lower priorities.
Trump and the White House stressed that the new bill would “stop many immigrants from coming in and just immediately going” to access their social welfare benefits. The bill expects all immigrants to be able to “fully support themselves financially.”
The attention to welfare in the bill comes on the heels of Trump’s announcement on June 21 in an Iowa rally that he wanted to bar new immigrants from being eligible for welfare for at least five years after arrival.
But federal law already bars most foreigners with immigrant visas from being eligible for federal benefits for their first five years in the country.
The RAISE bill also slashes out another important category in the current system: the diversity lottery program.
The “diversity visa” allows 50,000 applicants from under-represented countries to obtain a green card to come to the U.S. It bars applicants from major immigrant countries such as India and China from applying.
Amidst complaints of fraud and the case of the Egyptian terrorist Hesham Hadayet, who entered the U.S. via this program, the White House said it “serves questionable economic and humanitarian interests” and needs to be “eliminated.”
This particular addition to Trump’s bill isn’t new to Congress. Four bills getting rid of the program failed to get enough votes to pass from 2007 to 2009.
Cotton, one of the bill’s creators, said “only one in 15 out of a million new immigrants come here because of their job skills,” putting “great downward pressure on people who work with their hands and feet.” Cotton also said the current system doesn’t attract “the very best talent” who can “stand on their own feet,” and gets mostly low or unskilled workers instead.
The new bill has been written to closely model the Canadian and Australian systems that are “pro-worker, pro-growth and has proof of working,” according to Perdue, one of the bill’s authors.
The Australian and Canadian systems allocate permanent residency visas based on the demand for specific skills and professions they need. RAISE has already raised eyebrows in Congress and is facing major pushback.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that while he has always “supported merit-based” immigration, the bill would “devastate the South Carolina economy that relies on the immigrant workforce.”
Randy Johnson, senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said dramatically reducing overall immigration levels “won’t raise the standard of living for Americans.”
“In fact, it will likely accomplish the opposite, making it harder for businesses, communities and our overall economy to grow, prosper and create jobs for American workers.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said the bill is an “attack” on American values, especially given that immigrants helped “build this country.”
“This is nothing short of an anti-immigrant and anti-family proposal from the GOP. I will make sure it is dead on arrival,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., posted a photo of the Statue of Liberty with the caption, “Nevertheless she persisted” to mock senior White House adviser Stephen Miller’s defense Wednesday in the White House press briefing that Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus poem was added to the statue “later,” meaning the statue doesn’t symbolize open arms to immigration.
Cotton and Perdue had introduced a nearly identical bill back in February that failed to gain traction and have used most of the original elements in that bill for this new version.
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