President Trump, with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), speaks Wednesday during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

The Post reports:

President Trump on Wednesday endorsed a new bill in the Senate aimed at slashing legal immigration levels over a decade, a goal Trump endorsed on the campaign trail that would represent a profound change to U.S. immigration policies that have been in place for half a century.

Trump appeared with 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 April to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards per year granting foreigners permanent legal residence in the United States.

Because the bill went nowhere in April and will not make it onto the Senate calendar for the rest of the year, it’s an obvious, typical play to Donald Trump’s base, once more using immigrants as scapegoats and distractions. (“Trump’s appearance with the senators came as the White House moved to elevate immigration back to the political forefront after the president suffered a major defeat when the Senate narrowly rejected his push to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” The Post reported. “The president made a speech last Friday on Long Island in which he pushed Congress to devote more resources to fighting illegal immigration, including transnational gangs.”)

When introduced in April the bill was roundly criticized by more than 1,000 economists. There is near-uniformity among respected economists that immigrants do not “steal” jobs from native-born Americans (in part because they have different skill sets and in part because they make the economy bigger), have almost no impact on domestic wages (except for non-high school graduates, where the impact is less than 2 percent) and are essential to keep the economy growing. By reducing the number of immigrants by a half a million, the bill would shrink the U.S. economy and exacerbate the problem of an aging workforce (immigrants statistically are younger than the native-born population).

Nevertheless, for anti-immigrant groups who often insist they oppose only illegal immigration, it’s a revealing moment. They cheer the idea that we should take fewer hard-working, pro-American immigrants through legal avenues. (Trump, by the way, continues to hire substantial numbers of foreign workers at his resort in Florida.) No, the anti-immigrant forces simply want to keep people unlike themselves out of the United States. Their economic arguments are tired, wrong and a pretext for xenophobia.

Alex Nowrasteh dismantles the legislation:

Cotton-Perdue does not increase skilled immigration at all – it only cuts non-employment categories like families and the diversity visa while creating a points-based system for employment-based green cards that does not increase the numerical cap.  The new Cotton-Perdue 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. …

The immigration systems in Canada and Australia do emphasize skilled immigrants over family members but their immigration systems allow in far more immigrants, as a percentage of the population in both countries, than the United States.  It is important to control for the population of the destination country when comparing the relative openness of different immigration systems.

The notion that immigration restriction raises wages has been disproved by past experience. (Canceling the 1960s Bracero program, akin to the Cotton-Perdue plan for lowering immigrant numbers, had “little measurable effect on wages.”) A slew of conservative think tankers and former officials condemn immigration restrictionism as rotten for the U.S. economy. The plan was swiftly criticized by Democrats, pro-immigration activists and economically literate Republicans.  Trump’s promise of 3 percent annual growth was far-fetched; with a proposed reduction of 500,000 people, it becomes impossible.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has made a splash criticizing know-nothingism in his own party, has repeatedly disputed the GOP’s intensifying anti-immigrant sentiment. (It’s noteworthy that among lawmakers like Flake, who have experience with large immigrant populations, you see far less of this than among poor states with fewer immigrants — e.g., Arkansas, Alabama — where immigration has almost no effect on native-born Americans’ economic fortunes but provides a handy scapegoat for demagogues.) “That conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces — nationalism, populism, xenophobia, extreme partisanship, even celebrity — explains part of how and why we lost our way,” Flake writes. “That we who call ourselves conservative have been willing partners in that compromise explains the rest.”

Republicans who want to stimulate economic growth, diminish ethnic hatred, expand entrepreneurship and stop demonizing immigrants in lieu of sane, constructive economic policy should not only ignore the Cotton-Perdue bill but denounce it.