Is immigration change fodder for presidential ambition?
The first question is why.
Why would a U.S. senator from Arkansas invest himself so heavily in changing the laws governing legal immigration?
That is, of course, what U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is doing.
Last week, he was in the national spotlight with President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is co-sponsoring legislation with Cotton that the president enthusiastically endorsed.
The bill is called the RAISE Act, which is the acronym for “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy.”
Trump is persuaded that the changes the senators propose “will reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.”
For his part, Cotton contends immigrants compete against Americans for jobs, making it harder for working-class people to make a living.
The bill is designed to limit how many people may immigrate to the U.S. and to favor those who can contribute more to the economy than others.
It would, among many other things, reduce the number of people who are allowed to immigrate, arguably by as much as 50 percent within 10 years.
Now, legal immigration brings more than a million people a year into the U.S.
According to Cotton’s website, based on the work of Princeton and Harvard researchers, the RAISE Act would lower overall legal immigration by 41 percent in its first year and cut immigration by half in its tenth year.
The bill would also reset priorities on who could come into the country.
It would prioritize what Cotton’s website calls “ultra high-skilled immigrants who spur innovation, create jobs and make America more competitive,” while turning away low-skilled or unskilled workers for permanent work visas.
This would supposedly happen through a skills-based points system that rewards potential immigrants who have better educations and English-speaking skills. That’s just the start.
There would also be points given for those with some high-paying job awaiting them here or with the proven ability to invest in a business or other undertaking.
Preference would go, too, to younger immigrants (with more working years ahead of them) and to those with some record of extraordinary achievement, like a Nobel Prize or Olympic medal.
You get the picture.
The system certainly seems to favor people other than the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” who are beckoned in the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty — the kind of hard-working immigrants to whom many Americans trace their heritage.
Tomorrow’s immigrants, as envisioned by Cotton and Purdue and Trump, must bring something more than their dreams and determination.
Nor should future immigrants count on bringing relatives other than spouses and minor children. Adult children and extended family would have no pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.
At least, that’s what Cotton and Perdue — with Trump’s strong support — are proposing.
The bill, according to the president, is “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”
It is significant. But is it good? Is this what the country wants?
These are but a few of the particulars in the legislation, which will probably face the same fate as other proposed overhauls of the immigration system have in the last 50 years.
Most likely, there will be this flash of attention to the bill with lots of follow-up stump speeches to the same crowds that so heartily endorse building a border wall to block illegal immigration.
Stemming the tide of legal immigrants may play as well to them as did Trump’s call for a wall and his claim that Mexico would pay for it.
And that may explain why a U.S. senator from Arkansas, at least one with his own presidential ambitions, has taken up this cause.
Cotton doesn’t particularly need more exposure in Arkansas, but he is trying to get noticed in the rest of the country.
For good or for bad, his attempt to alter legal immigration policy should help accomplish that.