Trump backs bill that would halve le­gal im­mi­gra­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Pe­ter Baker

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump em­braced leg­is­la­tion on Wed­nes­day that would cut le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to the United States in half within a decade by sharply cur­tail­ing the abil­ity of U.S. cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents to bring fam­ily mem­bers into the coun­try.

Ar­gu­ing that the U.S. has taken in too many low-skilled im­mi­grants for too long, Trump in­vited two Repub­li­can se­na­tors to the White House to put his weight be­hind their bill that would judge ap­pli­cants for le­gal res­i­dency on the ba­sis of ed­u­ca­tion, lan­guage abil­ity and job abil­i­ties that would ben­e­fit the coun­try.

“This com­pet­i­tive ap­pli­ca­tion process will fa­vor ap­pli­cants who can speak English, fi­nan­cially sup­port them­selves and their fam­i­lies and demon­strate skills that will con­trib­ute to our econ­omy,” Trump said.

“This leg­is­la­tion,” he added, “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. This leg­is­la­tion demon­strates our com­pas­sion for strug­gling Amer­i­can fam­i­lies who de­serve an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem

that puts their needs first and that puts Amer­ica first.”

The bill, spon­sored by Sens. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and David Per­due of Georgia, would re­duce over­all le­gal im­mi­gra­tion by 41 per­cent in its first year and by 50 per­cent by its 10th year, ac­cord­ing to pro­jec­tions cited by its au­thors. The re­duc­tions would come al­most en­tirely from those brought in through fam­ily ties.

The num­ber of im­mi­grants granted le­gal res­i­dency on the ba­sis of job skills, about 140,000, would re­main roughly the same, though a much higher pro­por­tion of the re­duced over­all num­ber.

The pro­posal re­vives an idea that was in­cluded in broader im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion sup­ported by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2007 but that failed in Congress. Repub­li­can sup­port­ers ar­gued that it would mod­ern­ize im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that had not been up­dated sig­nif­i­cantly in half a cen­tury, but crit­ics in both par­ties con­tended it would harm the econ­omy by keep­ing out work­ers who fill lowwage jobs that Amer­i­cans did not want.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, most le­gal im­mi­grants are ad­mit­ted to the U.S. based on fam­ily ties. U.S. cit­i­zens can spon­sor spouses, par­ents and mi­nor chil­dren for visas that are not sub­ject to any nu­mer­i­cal caps, while sib­lings and adult chil­dren get 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 more than 1 mil­lion im­mi­grants ad­mit­ted with le­gal res­i­dency were im­me­di­ate rel­a­tives of U.S. cit­i­zens or spon­sored by fam­ily mem­bers. Just 15 per­cent en­tered on the ba­sis of em­ploy­ment-based pref­er­ences, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, an in­de­pen­dent re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. But that does not mean those who came in on fam­ily ties were nec­es­sar­ily low skilled or un­e­d­u­cated.

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

The leg­is­la­tion would es­tab­lish a sys­tem of skills points based on ed­u­ca­tion, English speak­ing abil­ity, high-pay­ing job of­fers, age, record of achieve­ment and en­tre­pre­neur­ial ini­tia­tive. But while it would still al­low the spouses and mi­nor chil­dren of Amer­i­cans and le­gal res­i­dents to come in, it would elim­i­nate pref­er­ence for other rel­a­tives, like sib­lings and adult chil­dren. The bill would cre­ate a re­new­able tem­po­rary visa for el­derly 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 is meant to em­u­late “merit-based” sys­tems in Canada and Australia.

“Our cur­rent sys­tem does not work,” Per­due said. “It keeps Amer­ica from be­ing com­pet­i­tive.”

Cot­ton re­jected the no­tion that the cur­rent sys­tem was a sym­bol of U.S. com­pas­sion.

“It’s a sym­bol that we’re not com­mit­ted to work­ing-class Amer­i­cans, and we need to change that,” he said.

But Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., crit­i­cized the mea­sure, not­ing that agriculture is his state’s No. 1 in­dus­try and tourism is No. 2.

“If this pro­posal were to be­come law, it would be dev­as­tat­ing to our state’s econ­omy, which re­lies on this im­mi­grant work­force,” 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.”

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