Trump backs Se­nate bill to cut im­mi­gra­tion num­bers by half

Busi­ness lead­ers say for­eign skilled la­bor needed to fill jobs

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER AND STEPHEN DINAN

Pres­i­dent Trump threw his sup­port Wed­nes­day be­hind a Se­nate bill that would cut le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in half and im­pose a merit-based sys­tem, giv­ing pref­er­ence to English-speak­ing im­mi­grants who demon­strate job skills and cur­tail­ing the tra­di­tional pipe­line that re­warded ex­tended fam­ily ties.

Meet­ing at the White House with Repub­li­can Sens. David Per­due of Ge­or­gia and Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas, the bill’s spon­sors, the pres­i­dent said the leg­is­la­tion would be the big­gest change to im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in 50 years. His aides sig­naled that they ex­pect it to be a ma­jor part of the na­tional de­bate head­ing into midterm elec­tions next year.

Democrats vowed to re­sist the changes, and im­mi­grant rights groups said Mr. Trump was cater­ing to “white na­tion­al­ists” with the pro­posal, which would slash le­gal im­mi­gra­tion over the next decade from about 1.1 mil­lion green cards a year to 500,000.

The bill would also pre­vent im­mi­grants from ac­cess­ing wel­fare and would re­place the em­ploy­ment visa sys­tem, which re­lies on busi­nesses to pick im­mi­grants, with a skills-based sys­tem that gives the gov­ern­ment a big­ger role in se­lect­ing ap­pli­cants based on their in­di­vid­ual mer­its.

“This leg­is­la­tion demon­strates our com­pas­sion for strug­gling Amer­i­can fam­i­lies who de­serve an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that puts their needs first and that puts Amer­ica first,” said Mr. Trump, adding that it would “re­store the sa­cred bonds of trust be­tween Amer­ica and its cit­i­zens.”

Mr. Cot­ton said the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is “an ob­so­lete dis­as­ter,” in which only 1 im­mi­grant in 15 comes to the U.S. be­cause of job skills.

“I think it’s a sym­bol that we’re not com­mit­ted to work­ing­class Amer­i­cans,” Mr. Cot­ton said.

Congress has re­peat­edly toyed with cut­ting le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and with en­act­ing a points-based sys­tem to pick im­mi­grants — most re­cently in 2007, in an im­mi­gra­tion bill Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and lead­ers of both par­ties tried to push through the Se­nate.

The bill failed, but most Se­nate Democrats voted for it.

Now, with Mr. Trump’s stamp on the pol­icy, Democrats are adamantly op­posed. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, called the pro­posal part of a “hate­ful, sense­less anti-im­mi­grant agenda.”

Im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists were, if any­thing, even harsher.

“Let’s call it as we see it: This is a white na­tion­al­ist agenda mas­querad­ing as a bill about skill lev­els,” said Frank Sharry, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice.

Busi­ness groups also an­nounced op­po­si­tion, say­ing the coun­try needs more im­mi­grant la­bor in or­der to keep up in a global econ­omy.

Com­pete Amer­ica, a proim­mi­gra­tion lobby, said the bill amounted to the gov­ern­ment “telling Amer­i­can em­ploy­ers who they should hire.”

The sys­tem pro­posed by Mr. Cot­ton and Mr. Per­due would re­ward ed­u­ca­tion, English­language abil­ity, high-pay­ing job of­fers, achieve­ments and en­tre­pre­neur­ial ini­tia­tive.

The White House said it would be sim­i­lar to the mer­it­based im­mi­gra­tion sys­tems used by Canada and Aus­tralia.

The mea­sure pri­or­i­tizes im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers of U.S. res­i­dents, in­clud­ing spouses and mi­nor chil­dren, but would end pref­er­ences for ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers and adult chil­dren.

Le­gal per­ma­nent im­mi­grants are is­sued what is known as a green card, prov­ing their sta­tus in the U.S. Green card hold­ers can usu­ally ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship af­ter five years, can spon­sor rel­a­tives for im­mi­gra­tion and can ac­cess wel­fare ben­e­fits at some point.

A ma­jor­ity of green cards are is­sued to peo­ple al­ready liv­ing in the U.S. on tem­po­rary visas — though that num­ber has been drop­ping over the past decade.

Amer­i­cans are di­vided on the right level of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. About 40 per­cent want to see the num­bers cut, while an­other 40 per­cent want them to stay the same. The re­main­ing 20 per­cent want in­creases.

The U.S. sys­tem is widely seen as bro­ken, how­ever, with im­mi­grants — both le­gal and il­le­gal — of­ten hav­ing more say in the mat­ter than the gov­ern­ment.

Ex­tended fam­i­lies, busi­ness re­la­tion­ships and even a ran­dom lot­tery are used to award per­ma­nent visas.

It wasn’t al­ways that way. From 1924 to 1965, the coun­try im­posed strict im­mi­gra­tion lim­its, in­clud­ing na­tion­al­ity quo­tas, but granted ex­emp­tions to close fam­ily mem­bers and

ap­pli­cants with high skills or who were brought in to work in agri­cul­ture.

Congress de­cided to lib­er­al­ize the pol­icy in 1965, cre­at­ing the frame­work for the mod­ern sys­tem that fo­cuses heav­ily on ex­tended fam­ily ties. It also abol­ished na­tional quo­tas.

The re­sult was a sys­tem where about two-thirds of the green cards is­sued each year are for im­me­di­ate rel­a­tives of U.S. cit­i­zens, and about 15 per­cent go to refugees and asylees. An­other 15 per­cent go to em­ploy­ment­based ap­pli­cants.

The re­main­der go to win­ners of the di­ver­sity visa lot­tery, es­tab­lished in 1990, which doles out green cards based on chance.

The goal was to give po­ten­tial im­mi­grants who don’t have fam­ily ties or job prospects a shot at mak­ing it to the U.S.

The bill would nix the lot­tery, with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion say­ing it “serves ques­tion­able eco­nomic and hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ests.”

The bill would also limit per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus for refugees to 50,000 a year, which

the White House says is in line with the aver­age over the past 13 years.

Trump se­nior ad­viser Stephen Miller sug­gested that the White House in­tends to make the pro­posal a cam­paign is­sue next year in con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions.

“Ul­ti­mately, mem­bers of Congress will have a choice to make,” Mr. Miller said. “They can ei­ther vote with the in­ter­ests of U.S. cit­i­zens and U.S. work­ers, or they can vote against their in­ter­ests, and what­ever hap­pens as a re­sult of that, I think, would be some­what pre­dictable.”

Mr. Miller said polls con­sis­tently show that Amer­i­cans fa­vor im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that re­quires new ar­rivals to speak English, pre­vents im­mi­grants from dis­plac­ing ex­ist­ing work­ers, bars im­mi­grants from re­ceiv­ing wel­fare, re­quires them to have skills and re­duces over­all net mi­gra­tion.

“I do think that vot­ers across the coun­try are go­ing to de­mand these kinds of changes,” he said. “The ef­fect it has on their lives and their com­mu­ni­ties is over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DOU­BLING DOWN: Pres­i­dent Trump en­dorsed a Se­nate bill spon­sored by Sen. Tom Cot­ton (left) and Sen. David Per­due that would ef­fec­tively cut in half im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S. and re­quire new im­mi­grants to speak English and demon­strate job skills.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Green card re­cip­i­ents like Erik Da­nialian, a 21-year-old from Iran, are al­lowed to stay in the U.S. per­ma­nently. Pres­i­dent Trump wants to halve the cur­rent an­nual al­lot­ment of 1.1 mil­lion.

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