The wrong is­sue: Cot­ton, Trump tar­get le­gal im­mi­gra­tion for changes.

Cot­ton, Trump tar­get le­gal im­mi­gra­tion for changes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE -

To buy into the so-called re­form of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law pro­posed by U.S. Sen. Tom Cot­ton and sup­ported by his friend, Don­ald Trump, one must ac­cept that the United States’ sys­tem of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is re­spon­si­ble for eco­nomic harm to U. S. cit­i­zens.

That’s a highly sus­pect as­ser­tion, and Cot­ton’s pro­posed RAISE Act ig­nores the far big­ger is­sue of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion that’s a core con­cern of the vot­ing bloc that put Trump in the White House and ad­vo­cates for how the na­tion treats those within its bor­der re­gard­less of birth­place.

One has to won­der if Cot­ton, Trump and leg­is­la­tion co- spon­sor David Per­due of Ge­or­gia are nib­bling at the edge of im­mi­gra­tion is­sues be­cause they don’t have the fog­gi­est idea how to ad­dress the real prob­lem.

That, of course, didn’t stop can­di­date Trump from talk­ing big — yu­u­uge, re­ally

— about his Amer­ica-first fo­cus on get­ting rid of all those folks who are in this coun­try il­le­gally.

When Trump was on the cam­paign trail promis­ing to stem the flow of im­mi­gra­tion into the coun­try, is it even rea­son­able to be­lieve Amer­i­cans thought his “re­form” would fo­cus on the sys­tem of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion? No­body touts build­ing a wall on the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der as a method for lim­it­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. No, when those cheer­ing and jeer­ing crowds took a breath be­tween chants of “Lock her up” and “Make Amer­ica Great Again,” they ral­lied for a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who was go­ing to do some­thing about the es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion peo­ple in this coun­try il­le­gally. They weren’t think­ing about the 1 mil­lion who go through the bur­den­some and overly time-con­sum­ing le­gal process to ob­tain le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus, com­monly re­ferred to as green cards.

Le­gal im­mi­gra­tion isn’t the crit­i­cal im­mi­gra­tion is­sue fac­ing this coun­try. Trump stirred up his vot­ers with prom­ises to stop the tide of il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings and to find a way to deal with the mil­lions of for­eign na­tion­als who ei­ther over­stayed their visas or never had le­gal per­mis­sion to en­ter the coun­try to be­gin with.

But Cot­ton and his co-spon­sor, Per­due, know lower-hang­ing fruit when they see it. Trump and Co. cam­paigned so hard on that Amer­ica-first mantra and their re­lated anti-im­mi­grant fer­vor that some­thing must be done. Given the makeup of Congress, it’s un­likely the RAISE act is go­ing any­where. But it will give Trump his op­por­tu­nity to say he tried and it’s that aw­ful ol’ Congress that’s not get­ting the job done. Maybe he’ll end up sug­gest­ing the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws should just be re­pealed first and re­placed later. Sad!

What Cot­ton, et al, have de­cided to do is fo­cus the na­tion’s le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem on skills rather than on fam­ily con­nec­tions of peo­ple who are al­ready le­gally re­sid­ing in the United States. The least at­trac­tive part of their plan is its goal of re­duc­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion by 41 per­cent in its first year of im­ple­men­ta­tion and fully by half af­ter 10 years.

It’s al­ready an ar­du­ous process to ap­ply and be con­sid­ered for le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus. The sys­tem is back­logged. We’ve wit­nessed great can­di­dates in the

coun­try on work visas who have ended up go­ing back to their na­tive land frus­trated to give up their strug­gle for le­gal U.S. res­i­dence. Th­ese are re­ally not the peo­ple cre­at­ing prob­lems for our na­tion, which has am­ple ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb them.

The RAISE Act’s shrink­ing of the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pool flies in the face of ad­dress­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. At least a part of the rea­son we have il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is that the U.S. sys­tem of­fers lit­tle hope for a chance to come to this na­tion by le­gal means. The coun­try’s strong his­tory of im­mi­gra­tion and com­pas­sion does not de­mand open borders, but it surely calls for the de­vel­op­ment of an ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive sys­tem that rec­og­nizes the un­der­stand­able de­sire some peo­ple have to seek their for­tunes here.

And earn­ing points in the RAISE Act for one’s pro­fi­ciency in speak­ing English seems par­tic­u­larly re­stric­tive, which this act is cer­tainly in­tended to be. Our coun­try has seen plenty of im­mi­grants who get here be­fore be­ing pro­fi­cient but who con­trib­uted greatly to their com­mu­ni­ties and the na­tion as a whole. Let’s also not for­get that le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dency is not the same as cit­i­zen­ship. We cer­tainly be­lieve learn­ing English is a vi­tal part of U.S. cit­i­zen­ship, which quite of­ten fol­lows one’s achieve­ment of le­gal res­i­dency sta­tus.

Cot­ton’s pro­posal is one more at­tempt to play to the base that got Don­ald Trump elected and will likely play a role in get­ting fu­ture GOP con­tenders some no­tice. It al­most seems they’re count­ing on Amer­i­cans not to think too deeply about this pro­posal, just to take it on face value that Trump and th­ese se­na­tors are do­ing some­thing — any­thing! — on im­mi­gra­tion.

The na­tion needs com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Even Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­knowl­edged that, al­though her brand would have in­volved amnesty for a few mil­lion po­ten­tial Demo­cratic vot­ers. The be­nign ne­glect of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for decades has got­ten the United States into this mess, so one can’t blame any leader in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for want­ing to make changes.

The sug­ges­tion that the U.S. can de­port ev­ery­one here il­le­gally puts far too much con­fi­dence in our fed­eral gov­ern­ment that al­lowed us to get into this mess, so there must be some path­way to le­gal res­i­dence for at least some of our neigh­bors. That, how­ever, would be ra­dioac­tive for a politi­cian try­ing to curry fa­vor with Trump’s hard­est-core sup­port­ers. And so we get an at­tack on le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, in­stead.

The RAISE Act might be a start­ing point for dis­cus­sion, and if Congress were the de­lib­er­a­tive body it should be, per­haps some­thing work­able might emerge through col­lab­o­ra­tion. But pair­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions on le­gal im­mi­gra­tion stan­dards with a dra­co­nian re­duc­tion in the num­bers is a non- starter. As we said, le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is not the prob­lem the United States needs to solve.

Any ef­fort to make the na­tion’s le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem work bet­ter will be short- cir­cuited as long as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has such a ter­ri­ble record on the is­sue of bor­der se­cu­rity and how it man­ages the is­sue of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. It can hardly be said that progress is made by mak­ing mis­guided ad­just­ments to one while there is no com­pre­hen­sive ef­fort to deal with the other.


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