Pres. Trump backs proposal to cut legal immigration programs

Trump, GOP senators rally behind bill that would eliminate family-based petitioning

Acting on a crucial campaign goal, President Donald Trump on Wednesday, August 2 backed proposed legislation that would eliminate the current family-based immigration system into a more “merit-based” one that favors applicants’ skills and employability.

Trump stood with the bill’s co-authors, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.), at the White House to announce a bill that would judge applicants for legal residency based on what they can offer to the U.S. as workers.

This bill is a modified version of a bill first introduced in April that proposed to slash immigration by half from more than 1 million green cards issued per year and judge applicants based on their skills. Called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, the bill promises economic growth and a raise in American workers’ wages.

Trump’s support for the bill comes from concern over low-income and minority American workers, who he believes have suffered from the hiring of low-wage migrant workers.

“This competitive application will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.”

If passed into law, the RAISE Act would drop the amount of new immigrants to about half a million.

What is the RAISE Act?

The bill would get rid of the diversity visa lottery which issues 55,000 Permanent Resident cards (aka green cards) annually to people from countries historically underrepresented in employment and family-based categories.

It would also look to strictly enforce existing law that would require green card holders to reimburse the federal government for any public benefits received to encourage them to stay off welfare.

Under the RAISE Act, applicants earn points based on education, ability to speak English, high-paying job offers, age, achievement record and “entrepreneurial initiatives.” Since a merit-based program would generally allow immigrants to pursue higher levels of education to earn higher-paying jobs, they would be less likely to seek welfare programs.

However, the bill does not bar children, pregnant mothers and refugees access to federal assistance who legally immigrate via a program other than a merit-based system.

The bill would also retain immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs), but it would eliminate the existing preferences for particular categories of extended and adult family members.

It would also put a limit on the number of refugees welcomed in the country, dropping it from the Obama administration’s cap of 85,000 to 50,000 per year.

Calling it a “historic and very vital proposal”, Trump acknowledged that this bill would mark a significant reform to the immigration system and could be the start of reforms to come.

“This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens,” Trump asserted. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration that puts their needs first and puts America first.”

Although the bill is framed as a solution to many of the country’s economic pitfalls, experts say that the decrease in immigration would actually do more harm than good.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of Immigration and Cross-border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, noted that shrinking the labor force — which immigrants occupy roughly 17 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — would hinder economic growth.

“A growing labor force — aided by immigration — not only helps to shore up Social Security’s finances, but it also results in greater demand for goods and services, contributes to economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship, creates jobs and improves the long-term U.S. economic outlook,” Brown said in a statement.

Todd Schulte, president of STEM-based immigration lobbying group FWD.us, noted immigrant workers’ role in increasing wages for American workers in all industries and proposed a modernization of the current system rather than eliminating programs altogether.

“Not only do immigrants help grow the economy overall, but immigrants drive up wages for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and significantly so in areas and industries with more immigrants, where wage growth has outpaced the country overall,” Schulte said. “We call on Congress to fix those parts of our broken immigration system that clearly need reform – but we should create a modern legal visa system for the 21st century, not enact the largest cuts to legal immigration in modern history.”

How does this affect Asian communities?

Despite the president’s support, experts say the bill is unlikely to pass given that many centrist Republicans in Congress represent some of the country’s richest immigrant and ethnic communities.

However, the announcement has outraged organizations that believe that the legislation would hurt many ethnic communities that boast rich undocumented communities.

“This is a radical and alarming departure from America’s longstanding history of welcoming and embracing the diversity and family reunification values that give us our moral and economic advantage in the world,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement.

“An emphasis on so-called ‘merit-based’ immigration is a manipulative and misleading ploy that inaccurately suggests less legal immigration means more jobs for American workers. Economists from both sides of the political spectrum clearly and consistently reject this. The economic consequences and impact on American families would be devastating,” Hincapié continued, adding that the bill is “another move made to dismantle our national identity.”

The RAISE Act has the potential to affect the way in which most Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) migrate to the U.S. Two-thirds of AAPIs are immigrants, and a vast majority of Asian immigrants migrate to the U.S. through family-based petitioning, according to national legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Moreover, many of those who enter the U.S. with employment-based visas typically utilize family-based programs to petition family members to the U.S.

Anthony Ng, policy advocate for immigrant rights at Advancing Justice – Los Angeles Advancing Justice – LA, described the RAISE Act as “an attack on families” and a “step back for the country.”

“This is really devastating to a lot of Asian families as well as Latino families,” Ng told the Asian Journal on Friday, August 4. “[Advancing Justice – LA] definitely feels the RAISE Act is a wrong step for the [AAPI] community. It’s not strengthening our community, and it really presents this dichotomy where immigration is almost seen as a zero-sum game.”

Ng also mentioned that volumes of research have been conducted that debunked the myth that immigration negatively affects the “wage depression” argued by the bill’s sponsors. He added that the RAISE Act is a drastic step back from the 1965 Immigration Act, which lifted immigration quotas, allowing families to reunite and strengthen various ethnic communities.

“The RAISE Act is a reminder of the exclusion that Asian Americans felt in the past,” Ng said. “Moving forward, we have to think, what would this look like for the nation? If we’re really changing the way our immigration system works, it really goes against the values we have in this country for family and strengthening the communities we’ve built here in the U.S.”

In its current form, the RAISE Act only proposes changes to family-based petitioning, the diversity visa lottery, and the refugee program.

It does not indicate changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides a number of benefits for undocumented youth. It also doesn’t refer to the historic Filipino WWII Veterans Parole program, a family-based program that reunites the families of Filipino WWII veterans.

To families who fear that the RAISE Act will affect their prospects of citizenship, Ng encourages all undocumented individuals and families to seek legal counsel to determine what steps to take. To call Advancing Justice – LA for assistance, call (888) 349-9695 for English or (855) 300-2552 for Tagalog. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)

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