Trump Immigration Plan (Unsurprisingly) Falls Short of Promise

A few days before his inauguration, Donald Trump promised that his immigration plan was going to be “very firm” but would “have a lot of heart.”

That was half true.

On Wednesday, Trump backed the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act introduced by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue. Contrary to Trump’s build-up, the bill is entirely heartless.

Key Provisions of the RAISE Act

Billed as an effort to “meet the needs of our economy,” the bill:

  • Creates a merits-based point system that would have visa applicants compete based on characteristics such as education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, entrepreneurial initiative and extraordinary achievements
  • All but eliminates family-based immigration, by restricting U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsoring only spouses and minor children for green cards
  • Eliminates the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which awards 50,000 green cards yearly to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.
  • Limits the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 50,000 per year

It’s baffling how the President sees “heart” in the decision to do such things as restricting admission to the U.S. for those fleeing persecution and eliminating tens of thousands of visas.

Response to the RAISE Act and Trump’s Endorsement

California Senator Kamala Harris called the RAISE Act “an attack on our values,” saying that immigrants helped build this country and continue to strengthen it today. Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration and Border Issues Task Force and a Member of the House Judiciary Committee, argued that the deep cuts to legal immigration would trigger an increase in illegal immigration. He called the bill “exactly the opposite of what is needed to modernize our outdated and dysfunctional legal immigration system.”

Gutierrez went on to say, “If the Republicans have their way, the very lifeblood of our nation as a collection of the world’s outcasts and strivers will be in jeopardy and something uniquely successful in the history of mankind will become a thing only of memory.”

What Huddled Masses?

A CNN reporter suggested to White House advisor Stephen Miller that the bill wasn’t in keeping with American tradition and quoted from the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free 

 

Miller’s response suggested that the national monument has no relevance to immigration. He, instead, called the statue a symbol of “American liberty lighting the world.”  

Economic Impact of the RAISE Act

With characteristic hyperbole, Trump declared that the RAISE Act would reduce poverty, increase wages, and save U.S. taxpayers “billions and billions of dollars.” That claim appears to be based in a general sense that eliminating competition for low-skilled jobs will boost employment among Americans currently living in poverty. Neither Trump’s statement nor Senator Cotton’s press release offered any data or analysis in support of the claim.

Meanwhile, immigration advocates maintain that immigrants benefit the U.S. economy, pointing out that even undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, and in-depth analysis has shown that immigrant workers have little or no negative impact on American worker’s wages.

Trump’s Immigration History

Keeping the U.S. safe from citizens of the rest of the world has been a high-profile item on the Trump agenda from day one.   Fortunately, his track record to date is as weak as his understanding of the role immigrants play in the U.S. culture and economy. His sweeping executive orders on immigration issues have consistently been blocked, and we can hope that the RAISE Act will meet the same fate.