Trump Sup­ports Plan to Cut Le­gal Im­mi­gra­tion by Half

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Peter Baker

Pres­i­dent Trump em­braced a pro­posal on Wed­nes­day to slash le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to the United States by half within a decade by sharply cur­tail­ing the abil­ity of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents to bring fam­ily mem­bers into the coun­try.

The plan would en­act the most far-reach­ing changes to the sys­tem of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in decades and rep­re­sents the pres­i­dent’s lat­est ef­fort to stem the flow of new­com­ers to the United States. Since tak­ing of­fice, he has barred many vis­i­tors from se­lect Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries, lim­ited the in­flux of refugees, in­creased im­mi­gra­tion ar­rests and pressed to build a wall along the south­ern bor­der.

In ask­ing Congress to curb le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, Mr. Trump in­ten­si­fied a de­bate about na­tional iden­tity, eco­nomic growth, worker fair­ness and Amer­i­can val­ues that an­i­mated his cam­paign last year. Crit­ics said the pro­posal would un­der­cut the fun­da­men­tal vi­sion of the United States as a haven for the poor and hud­dled masses, while the pres­i­dent and his al­lies said the coun­try had taken in too many low-skilled im­mi­grants for too long to the detri­ment of Amer­i­can work­ers.

“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,” Mr. Trump said at a White House event along­side 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.”

In throw­ing his weight be­hind a bill, Mr. Trump added one more long-odds pri­or­ity to a leg­isla­tive agenda al­ready packed with them in the wake of the de­feat of leg­is­la­tion to re­peal and re­place Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care pro­gram. The pres­i­dent has al­ready vowed to over­haul the tax code and re­build the na­tion’s roads, air­ports and other in­fra­struc­ture.

But by en­dors­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion cuts, a move he has long sup­ported, Mr. Trump re­turned to a theme that has de­fined his short po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and ex­cites his con­ser­va­tive base at a time when his poll num­bers con­tinue to sink. Just 33 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ap­proved of his per­for­mance in the lat­est Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity sur­vey, the low­est rat­ing of his pres­i­dency, and down from 40 per­cent a month ago.

Democrats and some Re­pub­li­cans quickly crit­i­cized the move. “In­stead of catch­ing crim­i­nals, Trump wants to tear apart com­mu­ni­ties and pun­ish im­mi­grant fam­i­lies that are mak­ing valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to our econ­omy,” said Tom Perez, the chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “That’s not what Amer­ica stands for.”

The bill, spon­sored by Se­na­tors Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and David Per­due of Ge­or­gia, would in­sti­tute a mer­it­based sys­tem to de­ter­mine who is ad­mit­ted to the coun­try and granted le­gal res­i­dency green cards, fa­vor­ing ap­pli­cants based on skills, ed­u­ca­tion and lan­guage abil­ity rather than re­la­tions with peo­ple al­ready here. The pro­posal re­vives an idea in­cluded in broader im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion sup­ported by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush that died in 2007.

More than one mil­lion peo­ple are granted le­gal res­i­dency each year, and the pro­posal would re­duce that by 41 per­cent in its first year and 50 per­cent by its 10th year, ac­cord­ing to pro­jec­tions cited by its spon­sors. The re­duc­tions would come largely from those brought in through fam­ily con­nec­tions. The num­ber of im­mi­grants granted le­gal res­i­dency on the ba­sis of job skills, about 140,000, would re­main roughly the same.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, most le­gal im­mi­grants are ad­mit­ted to the United States based on fam­ily ties. Amer­i­can cit­i­zens can spon­sor spouses, par­ents and mi­nor chil­dren for an un­re­stricted num­ber of visas, while sib­lings and adult chil­dren are given pref­er­ences for a lim­ited num­ber of visas avail­able to them. Le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents hold­ing green cards can also spon­sor spouses and chil­dren.

In 2014, 64 per­cent of im­mi­grants ad­mit­ted with le­gal res­i­dency were im­me­di­ate rel­a­tives of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens or spon­sored by fam­ily mem­bers. Just 15 per­cent en­tered through em­ploy­ment-based pref­er­ences, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, an in­de­pen­dent re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. But that does not mean that those who came in on fam­ily ties were nec­es­sar­ily low skilled or un­e­d­u­cated.

The leg­is­la­tion would award points based on ed­u­ca­tion, abil­ity to speak English, high-pay­ing job of­fers, age, record of achieve­ment and en­tre­pre­neur­ial ini­tia­tive. But while it would still al­low spouses and mi­nor chil­dren of Amer­i­cans and le­gal res­i­dents to come in, it would elim­i­nate pref­er­ences for other rel­a­tives, like sib­lings and adult chil­dren. The bill would cre­ate a re­new­able tem­po­rary visa for older-adult par­ents who come for care­tak­ing pur­poses.

The leg­is­la­tion would limit refugees of­fered per­ma­nent res­i­dency to 50,000 a year and elim­i­nate a di­ver­sity visa lot­tery that the spon­sors said does not pro­mote di­ver­sity. The se­na­tors said their bill was meant to em­u­late sys­tems in Canada and Aus­tralia.

The pro­jec­tions cited by the spon­sors said le­gal im­mi­gra­tion would de­crease to 637,960 af­ter a year and to 539,958 af­ter a decade.

“Our cur­rent sys­tem does not work,” Mr. Per­due said. “It keeps Amer­ica from be­ing com­pet­i­tive and it does not meet the needs of our econ­omy to­day.”

Mr. Cot­ton said low-skilled im­mi­grants pushed down wages for those who worked with their hands. “For some peo­ple, they may think that that’s a sym­bol of Amer­ica’s virtue and gen­eros­ity,” he said. “I think it’s a sym­bol that we’re not com­mit­ted to work­ing-class Amer­i­cans, and we need to change that.”

But Se­na­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham, Repub­li­can of South Carolina, noted that agri­cul­ture and tourism were his state’s top two in­dus­tries. “If this pro­posal were to be­come law, it would be dev­as­tat­ing to our state’s econ­omy, which re­lies on this im­mi­grant work force,” he said. “Ho­tels, res­tau­rants, golf cour­ses and farm­ers,” he added, “will tell you this pro­posal to cut le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in half would put their busi­ness in peril.”

Cut­ting le­gal im­mi­gra­tion would make it harder for Mr. Trump to reach the stronger eco­nomic growth that he has promised. Bring­ing in more work­ers, es­pe­cially dur­ing a time of low un­em­ploy­ment, in­creases the size of an econ­omy. Crit­ics said the plan would re­sult in labor short­ages, es­pe­cially in lower-wage jobs that many Amer­i­cans do not want.

The Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Fo­rum, an ad­vo­cacy group, said the coun­try was al­ready fac­ing a work force gap of 7.5 mil­lion jobs by 2020. “Cut­ting le­gal im­mi­gra­tion for the sake of cut­ting im­mi­gra­tion would cause ir­repara­ble harm to the Amer­i­can worker and their fam­ily,” said Ali Noorani, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor.

Sur­veys show most Amer­i­cans be­lieve le­gal im­mi­gra­tion ben­e­fits the coun­try. In a Gallup poll in Jan­uary, 41 per­cent of Amer­i­cans were sat­is­fied with the over­all level of im­mi­gra­tion, 11 per­cent­age points higher than the year be­fore and the high­est since the ques­tion was first asked in 2001. Still, 53 per­cent of Amer­i­cans re­mained dis­sat­is­fied.

The plan en­dorsed by Mr. Trump gen­er­ated a fiery ex­change at the White House brief­ing when Stephen Miller, the pres­i­dent’s pol­icy ad­viser and a long­time ad­vo­cate of im­mi­gra­tion lim­its, de­fended the pro­posal. Pressed for sta­tis­tics to back up claims that im­mi­gra­tion was cost­ing Amer­i­cans jobs, he cited sev­eral stud­ies that have been de­bated by ex­perts.

“But let’s also use com­mon sense here, folks,” Mr. Miller said. “At the end of the day, why do spe­cial in­ter­ests want to bring in more lowskill work­ers?”

He re­jected the ar­gu­ment that im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy should also be based on com­pas­sion. “Maybe it’s time we had com­pas­sion for Amer­i­can work­ers,” he said.

When a re­porter read him some of the words from the Statue of Lib­erty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your hud­dled masses yearn­ing to breathe free” — Mr. Miller dis­missed them. “The poem that you’re re­fer­ring to was added later,” he said. “It’s not ac­tu­ally part of the orig­i­nal Statue of Lib­erty.”

He noted that in 1970, the United States al­lowed in only a third as many le­gal im­mi­grants as it now does: “Was that vi­o­lat­ing or not vi­o­lat­ing the Statue of Lib­erty law of the land?”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­cerned that the coun­try has taken in too many low-skilled im­mi­grants for too long to the detri­ment of Amer­i­can work­ers.

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