Dra­matic shift, cuts

Plan would re­duce green cards, start merit-based sys­tem, di­min­ish fam­ily ties

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin

WASH­ING­TON» Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day em­braced leg­is­la­tion that would dra­mat­i­cally re­duce le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and shift the na­tion to­ward a sys­tem that pri­or­i­tizes merit and skills over fam­ily ties.

Trump joined with Repub­li­can Sens. David Per­due of Georgia and Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas to pro­mote the bill, which has so far gained lit­tle trac­tion in the Se­nate.

“This leg­is­la­tion demon­strates our com­pas­sion for strug­gling Amer­i­can fam­i­lies who de­serve an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that puts their needs first and puts Amer­ica first,” Trump said dur­ing an event in the White House’s Roo­sevelt Room.

It was the lat­est ex­am­ple of the pres­i­dent cham­pi­oning an issue that an­i­mated the core vot­ers of his 2016 cam­paign, fol­low­ing de­ci­sions to pull out of the Paris cli­mate treaty and ban trans­gen­der peo­ple from the mil­i­tary.

Per­due and Cot­ton’s leg­is­la­tion would re­place the cur­rent process for ob­tain­ing le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dency, or green cards, cre­at­ing a skills-based point sys­tem for em­ploy­ment visas. The bill would also elim­i­nate the pref­er­ence for U.S. res­i­dents’ ex­tended and adult fam­ily mem­bers, while main­tain­ing pri­or­ity for their spouses and mi­nor chil­dren.

Over­all, im­mi­gra­tion would be slashed 41 per­cent in the leg­is­la­tion’s first year and 50 per­cent in its 10th, ac­cord­ing to pro­jec­tion mod­els cited by the bill’s spon­sors. The bill would aim to slash the num­ber of refugees in half and elim­i­nate a pro­gram that pro­vides visas to peo­ple from coun­tries with low rates of im­mi­gra­tion.

The roll­out in­cluded a com­bat­ive press brief­ing led by Trump pol­icy aide Stephen Miller, who clashed with the me­dia over the plan and ac­cused one re­porter of be­ing “cos­mopoli­tan” when he sug­gested it would bring in only English-speak­ing peo­ple from Bri­tain and Australia.

The pres­i­dent has made

crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion a hall­mark of his ad­min­is­tra­tion and has tried to slash fed­eral grants for cities that refuse to com­ply with fed­eral ef­forts to de­tain and de­port those liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

But he has also vowed to make changes to the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, ar­gu­ing that im­mi­grants com­pete with Amer­i­cans for much-needed jobs and drive wages down.

Most econ­o­mists dis­pute the pres­i­dent’s ar­gu­ment, not­ing that im­mi­gra­tion in re­cent decades doesn’t ap­pear to have mean­ing­fully hurt wages in the long run. In­creased im­mi­gra­tion is as­so­ci­ated with faster growth be­cause the coun­try is adding work­ers, so restrict­ing the num­ber of im­mi­grants could slow the econ­omy’s po­ten­tial to ex­pand.

The bill’s sup­port­ers, mean­while, say it would make the U.S. more com­pet­i­tive, raise wages and cre­ate jobs.

Back­ers said the bill would in­crease the pro­por­tion of green cards avail­able to high-skilled work­ers sharply and would not af­fect other high or lowskilled worker visa pro­grams such as H1-B and H2-B visas.

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion hold­ing com­pany has asked for dozens of H-2B visas for for­eign work­ers at two of Trump’s pri­vate clubs in Florida, in­clud­ing his Mara-Lago re­sort.

The White House said that only one in 15 im­mi­grants comes to the U.S. be­cause of their skills, and the cur­rent sys­tem fails to place a pri­or­ity on highly skilled im­mi­grants.

But the Se­nate has largely ig­nored a pre­vi­ous ver­sion of the mea­sure, with no other law­maker sign­ing on as a co-spon­sor. GOP lead­ers have showed no in­cli­na­tion to vote on im­mi­gra­tion this year, and Democrats quickly dis­missed it.

“The bot­tom line is to cut im­mi­gra­tion by half a mil­lion peo­ple, le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, doesn’t make much sense,” said Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, who called it a “non­starter.”

The bill would cre­ate a new points-based sys­tem for ap­pli­cants seek­ing to be­come le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents, fa­vor­ing those who can speak English, have high-pay­ing job of­fers, can fi­nan­cially sup­port them­selves and offer skills that would con­trib­ute to the U.S. econ­omy. A lit­tle more than 1 mil­lion green cards were is­sued in 2015.

In a nod to his out­reach to blue-col­lar work­ers dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump said the mea­sure would pre­vent new im­mi­grants from col­lect­ing wel­fare for a pe­riod of time and help U.S. work­ers by re­duc­ing the num­ber of un­skilled la­bor­ers en­ter­ing the U.S.

But the pres­i­dent is mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing many of the im­mi­grants com­ing to the United States as low-skilled and de­pen­dent on gov­ern­ment aid.

The Pew Re­search Cen­ter said in 2015 that 41 per­cent of im­mi­grants who had ar­rived in the past five years held a col­lege de­gree, much higher than the 30 per­cent of non­im­mi­grants in the United States. A stun­ning 18 per­cent held an ad­vanced de­gree, also much higher than the U.S. av­er­age.

Trump has long ad­vo­cated for the changes and vowed dur­ing an im­mi­gra­tion speech in Phoenix last Au­gust to over­haul the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem “to serve the best in­ter­ests of Amer­ica and its work­ers.” He voiced sup­port for the Se­nate bill at a rally last week in Ohio, where his call for a “merit-based sys­tem” that “pro­tects our work­ers” gen­er­ated loud cheers.

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