Cot­ton un­veils pro­posal to re­strict im­mi­gra­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD

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.”

AP/EVAN VUCCI

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.”

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