Last week saw President Trump embrace a Congressional proposal to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens to bring family members into the country.
The bill, the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment,” or RAISE Act, is independent of the president’s barring of some visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries, and of the government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. It is being sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. It would institute a merit-based system to determine who is admitted to the country and granted legal residency green cards, favoring applicants based on skills, education and language ability, rather than family ties with American citizens.
More than one million people are granted legal residency by the U.S. each year, and the proposal would reduce that by 41 percent in its first year and 50 percent by its tenth year, according to projections cited by its sponsors. The number of immigrants granted legal residency on the basis of job skills, about 140,000, would remain roughly the same. The reductions would come largely from those brought in through family connections.
Under the current system, most legal immigrants are admitted to the country based on family ties. American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for an unrestricted number of visas, while siblings and adult children are given preferences for a limited number of visas available to them. Legal permanent residents holding green cards can also sponsor spouses and children.
In 2014, 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members. Just 15 percent entered through employment-based preferences, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent research organization.
The proposal is being promoted as a means to “spur economic growth and raise working Americans’ wages by giving priority to the best-skilled immigrants from around the world and reducing overall immigration by half.”
But the bill is receiving considerable criticism. Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, averred that “Instead of catching criminals, Trump wants to tear apart communities and punish immigrant families that are making valuable contributions to our economy. That’s not what America stands for.”
The claim, moreover, that the proposal will benefit the economy and American workers, is itself controversial. A number of studies have shown that immigration to date has not had adverse effects on American unemployment. The bill, in fact, if it becomes law, will likely deprive certain industries of the immigrant workers on whom they rely for jobs that Americans have shown little willingness to take on, like agriculture and tourism-related occupations.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina noted that those industries are his state’s top two hirers. “If this proposal were to become law,” he said, “it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant work force.”
“Hotels, restaurants, golf courses and farmers,” he added, “will tell you this proposal to cut legal immigration in half would put their business in peril.”
Closer to home, though, for our community, of greater concern is the potential impact of the measure on American families with relatives overseas, in places like Europe and Israel.
Ours is a global community, and all of us with friends or relatives overseas who are not U.S. citizens will feel the impact of this planned measure if it is enacted. Under its terms, while the status of spouses and children of citizens would be unchanged, American citizens or green-card holders would be severely limited in sponsoring their aged or infirm parents to immigrate to the United States.
It is also unclear whether the measure will provide any way to sponsor religious workers, like Rabbanim, mechanchim and kashrus workers, who play important roles in our community.
As reported in Friday’s daily, immigration attorney David Grunblatt called the measure “shocking,” noting that it would mean that “if I have an 85-year-old mother in England, she’ll have to go through a green-card process and get vetted,” in order to enter the United States.
Immigration reform was a mainstay of President Trump’s campaign, and it continues to fire up much of his base. Illegal immigration and security concerns about foreigners whose backgrounds are suspect are valid targets for the administration.
But draconian curbs on legal immigration should not be.