President Donald Trump endorsed the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act on Wednesday, a bill that would cut legal immigration in half over the next decade and prohibit new immigrants from receiving government benefits. Trump is touting the bill as a way of protecting low-wage American workers from immigrants who allegedly drive wages down.
“Among those who have been hit hardest in recent years are immigrants and minority workers competing for jobs against brand new arrivals,” Trump said while announcing the bill at the White House, flanked by Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton, who introduced it. “It has not been fair to our people, our citizens, and our workers.”
Trump said the RAISE Act will overhaul the current legal immigration process by enacting a “points-based system” that determines who gets a green card. The new “merit-based” system would favor prospective immigrants who speak English, can “financially support themselves and their families,” and have advanced degrees or specialized skills, the president said on Wednesday.
Restricting immigration will only condemn us to chronically low rates of economic growth.
Though Trump’s rhetoric and policies have largely focused on limiting the number of refugees and “bad hombres” admitted into the U.S., curbing legal immigration was one of his key campaign promises. During a Republican primary debate in March 2016, Trump said he wanted to reduce the number of HB-1 visas the U.S. issues, and at an August 2016 rally, he claimed legal immigrants pose a national security threat.
Current immigration law allows for 675,000 legal immigrant admissions per year, but that number is flexible and certain categories are exceeded. As a result, the U.S. issues about one million green cards per year, but as Politifact reported in February, the majority of people who become legal permanent residents each year already live and work in the country — typically as visa holders — and receive green cards through adjustment of status.
If it passes, the bill will slash legal immigration in half. “In one year, this would reduce it to around 600,000,” Cotton told NPR in February. “Over the span of the 10-year window it would fall to about 500,000.” The goal, Cotton said, “is to get our immigration levels back to historical norms, to take something of a pause to allow the economy to catch up with the immigrants that we have allowed into our country over the last two generations.” This would be achieved by eliminating the diversity visa lottery, which grants visas to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.; cutting the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in half, to about 50,000; and limiting U.S. citizens and permanent residents from sponsoring foreign relatives’ green cards. Two-thirds of green card recipients become legal permanent residents through their family relationships with U.S. citizen or permanent residents.
Perdue, likely citing a 2015 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, claimed on Wednesday that “over 50 percent” of immigrants “participate in our social welfare system.” The New Republic debunked this figure in 2015, saying that the CIS study used flawed methodology to exaggerate the number of immigrants on welfare. The Cato Institute similarly claimed that the CIS study relied on “ambiguous, poorly defined” variables, and found in a 2013 study that poor immigrants rely on welfare less than their native-born counterparts. (The CIS, an anti-immigrant think tank, was founded by nativist and white supremacist John Tanton and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Immigration and economic experts told the Washington Post that Trump’s decision to curb immigration is a “grave mistake,” particularly as baby boomers leave the workforce and U.S. birth rates hit historic lows. “Restricting immigration will only condemn us to chronically low rates of economic growth. It also increases the risk of the recession,” Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, told the Post.
But Trump is using immigration as a nativist dog whistle, using immigrants as a scapegoat for stagnating wages even as the Dow hits an all-time high. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families,” Trump said on Wednesday, failing to mention that his budget seeks to cut $9.2 billion from the Department of Education and eliminate necessary economic development programs in Appalachia.