Cotton unveils proposal to restrict immigration
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton unveiled legislation at the White House on Wednesday that would sharply reduce legal immigration and give preferences to highly skilled workers.
President Donald Trump had encouraged Cotton and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., to draft the bill.
On Wednesday in the Roosevelt Room, the president praised the proposal, calling it “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”
Trump said the legislation, known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy — or RAISE — Act, will “reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.”
Researchers say the measure, if approved, would cut legal immigration in half within 10 years of passage and prevent many unskilled workers from gaining entry. Legal immigration brings about 1.1 million people a year into the country.
Trump thanked the two lawmakers, who were standing beside him, “for their tremendous work in putting together this historic and very vital proposal.”
The legislation, if passed, would implement a pointsbased system for immigration similar to the ones used in Canada and Australia.
Applicants would receive points based on their age, educational attainment, English proficiency, willingness to invest and “record of extraordinary achievement.”
Those with Nobel prizes and Olympic gold medals would automatically receive achievement points.
The bill also would prevent what Trump called “chain migration.” Those granted green cards would be able to bring with them their spouses and children who are minors. But adult children and other relatives would no longer have a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.
A diversity lottery system, which gives preference to applicants from underrepresented nations, also would be eliminated.
In addition, the number of refugees admitted to the United States would be capped at 50,000 per year.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called on the country to overhaul its legal-immigration program.
At a rally in Phoenix, he promised to implement an “America first” program that would “select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society and their ability to be financially self-sufficient.” In a Trump administration, immigrants would be selected based on “merit, skill and proficiency,” he said at the time.
On Wednesday, Trump delivered a similar message.
“For decades, the United States was operated and has operated a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants. This policy has placed substantial pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources,” he said. “It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our 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,” he said. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”
On Wednesday, Cotton called the current system “an obsolete disaster.”
“We bring over a million immigrants into this country a year. That’s like adding the population of Montana every single year, adding the population of Arkansas every three years,” he said. “Only 1 in 15 out of a million new immigrants come here because of their job skills and their ability to succeed in this economy.”
Once in the U.S., they compete against Americans for jobs, making it harder for “people who work with their hands and work on their feet” to make a living, he said.
“Now, for some people, they may think that that’s a symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” Cotton said. “I think it’s a symbol that we’re not committed to working-class Americans. And we need to change that.”
Cotton and Perdue, citing studies by Harvard and Princeton professors, say the legislation would cut legal
immigration in its first year by 41 percent — from roughly 1.1 million to 637,960. By the 10th year, legal immigration would drop to 539,958 — a 50 percent decline.
“Our current system does not work. It keeps America from being competitive, and it does not meet the needs of our economy today,” Perdue said. “If we’re going to continue as the innovator in the world and the leader economically, it’s imperative that our immigration system focus on highly skilled, permanent workers who can add value to our economy and ultimately achieve their own version of the American dream.”
Cotton’s legislation faces opposition from some quarters, including FWD.us, a group whose leadership includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others.
The organization favors a path to citizenship for millions of people living in the U.S. illegally.
“This bill slashes overall legal immigration by 50% — the biggest reductions in a century — which would severely harm the economy and actually depress wages for Americans,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte in a written statement. “We call on Congress to fix those parts
of our broken immigration system that clearly need reform — but we should create a modern legal visa system for the 21st century, not enact the largest cuts to legal immigration in modern history.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes the “harmful impact of uncontrolled immigration,” applauded the proposal.
In a written statement, organization President Dan Stein said the Cotton-Perdue legislation “would replace the outdated, dysfunctional, and unfair immigration system with one that serves the national interest.”
“The RAISE Act finally thrusts our immigration system into the 21st Century, recognizing the need for a higher-skilled immigration flow while also acknowledging the importance of keeping nuclear families together in the process,” Stein added.
Wednesday’s rollout at the White House follows months of work and deliberation.
An early version of the bill, filed by Cotton and Perdue in February, contained many of the same provisions.
But Trump met with the men and encouraged them to add language creating the points-based system.
It’s a theme he repeated later that month in a speech to a joint session of Congress.
“The current, outdated [immigration] system depresses wages for our poorest workers and puts great pressure on taxpayers,” he told lawmakers then. A merit-based system, he said, “will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class. And they will do it quickly, and they will be very, very happy, indeed,” he said.
Since Trump took office, Cotton has been a leading advocate for overhauling the legal-immigration system, repeatedly conferring with the president about the topic.
Speaking at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in April, Cotton said Trump has been accessible and willing to discuss a variety of issues.
“We probably talk, you know, on a weekly basis, either in person at the White House or over the phone, and I try to get him to see things the way I think that we should go for the good of the country and for the good of Arkansas,” Cotton said earlier this year. “When he’s right, I support him, and when he’s wrong, I try to change his mind.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (left), speaking Wednesday at the White House alongside President Donald Trump and Sen. David Perdue, called the current legal immigration system “an obsolete disaster.”