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Trump, GOP senators introduce bill to slash legal immigration levels

By David Nakamura

August 3, 2017 at 12:50 AM

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President Trump announced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act on Aug. 2, which aims to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards granted per year. (The Washington Post)

President Trump on Wednesday endorsed a new bill in the Senate aimed at slashing legal immigration levels in half over a decade, a potentially profound change to policies that have been in place for more than half a century.

Trump appeared with Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) at the White House to unveil a modified version of a bill the senators first introduced in February to create a “merit-based” immigration system that would put a greater emphasis on the job skills of foreigners over their ties to family in the United States.

The legislation seeks to reduce the annual distribution of green cards awarding permanent legal residence to just over 500,000 from more than 1 million. Trump promised on the campaign trail to take a harder line on immigration, arguing that the growth in new arrivals had harmed job opportunities for American workers.

Related: Fact Checker: President Trump’s claim that illegal immigration went up under past administrations

“Among those who have been hit hardest in recent years are immigrants and minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals,” said Trump, flanked by the senators in the Roosevelt Room. “It has not been fair to our people, our citizens and our workers.”

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White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller spoke about the president's proposal to reduce immigration at the daily press briefing on August 2. (Reuters)

The bill faces dim prospects in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and would have difficulty reaching 60 votes to fend off a filibuster. But the president’s event came as the White House sought to move past a major political defeat on repealing the Affordable Care Act by pivoting to issues that resonate with Trump’s core supporters.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has begun laying the groundwork to potentially bring legal challenges against universities over admissions policies that could be deemed to discriminate against white students.

Trump’s critics accused the administration of pursuing policies that would harm immigrants and racial minority groups.

“This offensive plan . . . is nothing but a series of nativist talking points and regurgitated campaign rhetoric that completely fails to move our nation forward toward real reform,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement.

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.”

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Despite criticism, a federal program that awards U.S. permanent residency to foreigners through a lottery has been around for almost 30 years. This is how the lottery works. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

Trump had met twice previously at the White House with Cotton and Perdue to discuss the details of their legislation, which is titled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (Raise) Act. Their proposal calls for reductions­ to family-based immigration programs, cutting off avenues for the siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to apply for green cards. Minor children and spouses would still be able to apply.

The bill would create a point system based on factors such as English ability, education levels and job skills to rank applicants for the 140,000 employment-based green cards distributed annually.

In addition, the senators propose to cap annual refugee admissions at 50,000 and to end a visa diversity lottery that has awarded 50,000 green cards a year, mostly to applicants from African nations.

Cotton said that while some might view the current immigration system as a “symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” he sees it “as a symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans and we need to change that.”

The number of legal immigrants has grown rapidly since 1965, when lawmakers eased restrictionist laws that had been in place for four decades that largely shut down immigration from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Trump’s chief policy aide, Stephen Miller, argued that the system has grown unwieldy, flooding the country with low-skilled workers who drive down wages for Americans of all racial backgrounds, including other immigrants who are already here.

Miller sparred with a reporter Wednesday at the daily White House briefing over the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. He argued that the famous poem by Emma Lazarus was “added later” and thus did not define the U.S. immigration system as offering protection to the “poor” and “huddled masses.”

“If you look at the history of immigration, it actually ebbed and flowed,” Miller said. “There were periods of large waves followed by periods of less immigration.”

The legislation was quickly denounced by congressional Democrats, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and immigrant rights groups. It is also likely to face resistance from some business leaders and moderate Republicans in states with large immigrant populations.

Opponents of the bill said that immigrants help boost the economy and that studies have shown they commit crimes at lower levels than do native-born Americans.

“This is just a fundamental restructuring of our immigration system which has huge implications for the future,” said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies. “This is part of a broader strategy by this administration to rid the country of low-skilled immigrants they don’t favor in favor of immigrants in their image.”

Perdue and Cotton said their proposal is modeled after “merit-based” immigration systems in Canada and Australia that also use point systems. But those countries admit more than twice the number of immigrants to their countries as the United States does now when judged as a percentage of overall population levels.

“Just because you have a PhD doesn’t mean you’re necessarily more valuable to the U.S. economy,” said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy. “The best indication of whether a person is employable is if someone wants to hire them.”

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, wrote that the bill “would do nothing to boost skilled immigration and it will only increase the proportion of employment-based green cards by cutting other green cards. Saying otherwise is grossly deceptive marketing.”

Cuts to legal immigration levels, including some of the same groups targeted in the ­Cotton-Perdue bill, were included in a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013 that was backed by President Barack Obama and approved on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.

But that bill, which died in the GOP-controlled House, would have offered a path to citizenship to an estimated 8 million immigrants living in the country illegally and cleared a green-card waiting list of 4 million foreigners.

Groups that favor stricter immigration policies hailed the ­legislation as a step in the right direction. Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said the Raise Act “will do more than any other action to fulfill President Trump’s promises as a candidate to create an immigration system that puts the interests of American workers first.”

John Wagner contributed to this report. 

President Trump arrives in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York to speak to the media about infrastructure and respond to questions about the violence, injuries and deaths at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
President Trump, center, delivers remarks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower. Standing alongside him are, from left, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Trump speaks about the violence in Charlottesville as he talks to the media. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Trump speaks to the news media about the protests in Charlottesville after his statement on the infrastructure discussion. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump, center, stops to respond to more questions about his responses to the violence in Charlottesville as he leaves a news conference at Trump Tower. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
At the White House, President Trump displays a memorandum he signed addressing Chinas trade practices. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Trump salutes as he disembarks from Marine One at the White House. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
At his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., Trump speaks about the violent protests in Charlottesville that turned deadly Saturday. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump, center, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, shake hands with military veterans after signing the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act in Bedminster, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Trump attends a workforce-development discussion at his club in Bedminster, N.J. From left: senior adviser Jared Kushner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the president, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, aide Andrew Bremberg and Ivanka Trump. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Trump speaks to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, U.N. AmbassadorNikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster in Bedminster. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
President Trump and Vice President Pence arrive to speak with reporters before a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Trump, accompanied by Pence, speaks to reporters in Bedminster. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
President Trump talks about North Korea during a briefing on the opioid crisis at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Bedminster for vacation. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump talks with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice at a rally in Huntington. Justice, a Democrat, said he is switching parties to join the Republicans. (Darron Cummings/AP)
Trump listens to a presentation by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a VA telehealth event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump and Shulkin, center, talk with a patient via a tablet during the telehealth event. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump, flanked by Sens. Tom Cotton (R- Ark.), left, and David Perdue (R-Ga.), speaks in the Roosevelt Room during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump, joined by Cotton, speaks in the Roosevelt Room. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump, flanked by Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, left, and adviser Ivanka Trump speaks during a White House event with owners of small businesses. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
New White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Trump shake hands after Kellys private swearing-in ceremony in the Oval Office. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump waves to well-wishers after dining at Trump International Hotel in Washington. (Chris Kleponis/Pool photo via European Pressphoto Agency)
Trump speaks to law enforcement officials about the MS-13 street gang on the Long Island University campus in Brentwood, N.Y. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Police applaud a line by Trump during remarks about his proposed government effort against the MS-13 gang at a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Brentwood. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Trump speaks with reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after firing Reince Priebus and naming Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly as his new chief of staff. (Evan Vucci/AP)
At the White House, Trump welcomes Jennifer Scalise, wife of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot in June at a congressional baseball practice. The ceremony honored first responders who helped during the shooting in Alexandria, Va. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump presents the Medal of Valor to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner during the ceremony honoring first responders at the shooting that took place during a GOP baseball team practice. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump greets, from left, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Vice President Pence, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Terry Gou, chief executive of Foxconn, in the East Room of the White House after announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for the electronics giant. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Supporter Geno DiFabio speaks with Trump. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri walk to the Rose Garden of the White House for a joint news conference. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
From left, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner attend a meeting with the Lebanese prime minister in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump waves to the Boy Scout troops and leaders assembled at the groups national jamboree in West Virginia. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
From the Blue Room of the White House, the president urges Senate Republicans to move forward with legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), second from left, stand for the colors during the commissioning ceremony of the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Trump greets guests during a meeting in the Oval Office with survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: Scenes from Trump’s second six months in office

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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