President Donald Trump came out Wednesday for a bill that would reduce legal immigration by one-half over the next decade.
Trump joined Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) to present a reworked version of the so-called RAISE Act, S. 354 (115), which the senators introduced in February. Like the original measure, the revised bill would, over 10 years, reduce legal immigration to roughly 500,000 annually, down from the current level of about 1 million.
The bill would favor worker skills over family ties in determining who may immigrate to the U.S., and “would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in a half a century," Trump said. The president appeared to refer to the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, a landmark Great Society law that ended four decades of strict limitations and vastly increased immigration by non-Europeans.
But the Cotton-Perdue bill faces steep odds of becoming law, given likely opposition from Democrats and pro-immigration Republicans. In a written statement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that while "I’ve always supported merit-based immigration," the bill’s halving of immigration "would be devastating to our state’s economy."
Trump, along with Cotton and Perdue, stressed that a reduction in legal immigration and a shift to skills-based admissions would boost wages for U.S. workers and promote economic growth. That view conflicts with a near-uniform consensus among economists that future economic growth will require a large expansion of the U.S. workforce.
Cotton, a strong proponent of lower immigration levels, called the current immigration system “an obsolete disaster” ripe for reform. He said the current annual level of legal immigration equals the population of Montana, and stressed that today most new lawful permanent residents come to the U.S. because of family ties.
A report by the left-leaning Urban Institute that examined lawful permanent resident admissions from 2002 to 2011 found that 14 percent entered on employment-based visas, while 65 percent entered through family connections.
The Cotton-Perdue bill would end petitioning by U.S. citizens and green card holders to make extended family members lawful permanent residents. Spouses and minor children would still have preference under the measure.
The legislation would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which makes available 50,000 visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.
In addition, the bill would cap annual refugee admissions at 50,000, the level Trump called for in the travel ban executive order that he issued in March.
To rank incoming immigrants, the legislation would institute a “points system” similar to the admissions processes in Canada and Australia. Among the criteria would be education, English-language ability, prospective salary, age, entrepreneurship and past achievements.