Limiting legal immigration has just been enlisted to Trump’s comprehensive multi-pronged plan to stem the flow of newcomers to the United States.
Up until now, the president focused most of his immigration efforts on illegal immigration. Legal immigrants were led to believe that they were separate from the national discourse concerning Trump’s controversial illegal immigrant proposals.
But no more.
Trump held a press conference along with Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga) to introduce the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” or RAISE Act that would dramatically limit legal immigration by shifting immigration away from the current system based on family ties to one based on skills and education. The goal of the bill is to significantly reduce authorized immigrants admitted into the U.S. each year from about 1 million to 500,000 by 2027.
President Trump called the RAISE Act “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”
“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,” said Trump at a White House event alongside the two Republican senators sponsoring the bill. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”
Hawaii resident Jay Flores, an immigrant who says he got into the country solely based on professional merit via a H1-B Visa, sides with Trump on this legislation.
“I think it is a good way of ensuring that the U.S. only allows into the country people who will benefit the U.S. economy. I do not think Trump is motivated by anything else than for the American economy to grow and improve. I don’t think he is anti-immigrant,” said Flores.
The RAISE Act intensifies and expands the national discourse on immigration because no longer is Trump and Republicans saying American workers and the U.S. economy have been hurt by illegal immigrants, but by legal immigrants as well.
Some see the RAISE Act as a desperate attempt by Trump to appease his conservative base after a series of failures: the Travel Ban, no funding for the southern border wall, no repeal of Obamacare nor adoption of his American Health Care Act (AHCA). The lingering FBI investigation continues to plaque his administration and tax reform, that hasn’t come up yet, seems likely to fail too.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, predicted that the bill would not go far in Congress and called it “red meat to Donald Trump’s base.”
Politically, the RAISE Act is likely a bust for 2017 and will be added to Trump’s list of failures, but immigrant advocates believe it must be taken seriously and be fully debated because if there is even a moderate indication of support for it, the RAISE Act, like AHCA, is bound to be taken up again.
Johanna Puno Hester, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) National President and Assistant Executive Director of the United Domestic Workers, AFSCME Local 3930, said ““Every day our immigrant and refugee communities face a new threat, a new reason to fear living in this country. The administration-backed RAISE Act is another damaging tactic that is not only laced with xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment but also part of a larger agenda to strengthen white supremacy under the guise of ‘America First.’ Let us not be fooled by the divisive narrative the right wing is painting of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ immigrant, and let us not forget that the countless contributions of immigrants and refugees continue to enrich our country at its core. We will not tolerate efforts such as these to scapegoat millions of people in our immigrant communities, and we will be steadfast in fighting for what we know to be right, to be true, and to value diverse people with dignity and respect.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) said the bill is an “attack on [American] values” especially given that immigrants helped “build this country.”
Eliminating Extended Family Ties
One of the most contentious features of the bill is the elimination of immigrants to sponsor visas for extended family members. Legal immigrants will no longer be able to sponsor visas for their siblings or even adult children to come into the country to join them. Only spouses and minor children of Americans and legal residents can come into the country. The bill would create a renewable temporary visa for older sick parents who come for caretaking purposes only.
The elimination of sponsoring extended family will be the biggest reduction to new immigration. Under the current system, most authorized immigrants are admitted to the U.S. based on family ties. In 2014, 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent research organization.
The National Immigration Law Center said the Act would “devastate families, eliminating the traditional and long-accepted means by which family members such as grandparents, mothers, fathers, and siblings are able to reunite with their families who have emigrated to the United States.”
The Anti-Defamation League called the RAISE Act “cruel, anti-family and un-American.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, said the elimination of extended family would disproportionately affect Asian Americans who mostly utilize the existing family green card categories.
Making America White Again: Preference for English Speakers and the Point System
Another major change to immigration, the RAISE Act would implement a new points system for employment-based green cards. Currently, about 140,000 employment-based green cards are issued each year. The new points-based system will consider education levels, age, future salary, and prioritize English speakers.
Each person applying for immigration authorization is awarded points based on various characteristics on a scale of 0-to-100. Applicants would have to get at least 30 points. On education: highest educational qualification: 13 points for a US doctorate; a bachelor’s degree earns you 5 or 6, a master’s in the science, technology or mathematics 7 or 8; one point for a U.S. or foreign high school diploma; On age: people over 50 would get no points, with younger people being judged on a sliding scale from two to 10 points; On English proficiency: applicants will be judged by a test; the top 10 percent of test-takers will get 12 points; anyone less than 60th percentile gets no points; On future salary: 13 points for a job offer that paid 300% of the median for their destination state 5-13 points depending on how far the wage is above the medium wage; On investments: 12 points for a $1.8 million investment in a U.S. business; On achievements: 15 points for an Olympic medal, 25 points for a Nobel prize.
Flores supports the points system. “Other countries such as New Zealand have been using the points system and has ensured that those allowed into the country will be an asset to the economy rather than a liability,” said Flores.