For the last two years, the immigration debate has focused on enforcement and illegality. Ways to deal with a wall on the border with Mexico, criminal aliens, deportation, sanctuary cities, and President Obama’s questionable executive amnesty all involve illegal immigration. If the rules aren’t enforced, it doesn’t matter what the rules are.
However, last week, the more important questions became: What should the rules be? How many people should the federal immigration program admit each year? How should immigrants be selected? What are the best ways to minimize the harm while maximizing the benefits?
Also, last week, President Trump and Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue began to answer those questions with proposed legislation. It is titled the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act). First, it defines family immigration more narrowly. Currently, two-thirds of the million-plus foreign citizens who get green cards (i.e., permanent residence that can lead to citizenship) each year qualify only because they already have relatives here, but this loose system doesn’t screen for skills or education. It also causes chain migration, as each batch of immigrants sponsors the next ones.
RAISE would limit family immigration rights to the actual nuclear family: husbands, wives, and minor children of American citizens and legal residents. Current categories for adult siblings, adult sons and daughters, and parents would be eliminated. American citizens could still bring in their elderly parents for caretaking, but only on renewable non-immigrant visas (no green cards or citizenship) and after proving that they have paid for health insurance up front.
Second, RAISE addresses the employment-based immigration flow. All it is now is a jumble of categories and subcategories, contributing to the benefit of immigration lawyers. RAISE would create one stream-lined points system, similar to that of Canada and Australia. Points would be awarded to potential candidates based mainly on education, English-language ability, and age, and those meeting a certain benchmark would be in the green card pool, with top scorers being selected first.
Finally, RAISE would eliminate the absurd Diversity Visa Lottery and cap refugee admissions at fifty thousand per year, rather than allow the president to let in as many as he wishes, as is the case today.
What would be the consequences of RAISE? The level of immigration, now running at over a million per year, would likely drop by 40 percent, and then drop some more over time, as the number of foreign spouses declined. Most U.S. citizens marrying foreigners are earlier immigrants, thus as they age, and fewer new immigrants come in behind them, demand for spousal immigration likely falls. Still, our annual permanent immigration of 500,000-600,000 a year would be more than any other nation. Unfortunately, RAISE, as now proposed, doesn’t address temporary immigration, where businesses import cheap labor, both higher and lower-skilled, to make an end-run around the American labor market.
RAISE is a common sense, merit-based, and orderly system that would replace one now rife with fraud, deceit, swindle, and chaos. Trump said it would reduce poverty, increase wages, and save taxpayers billions of dollars. Admitting fewer un- skilled workers (many of whom land on welfare), phasing out chain migration, and simplifying admission of talented people would be commendable. Nevertheless, left-leaning Democrats will oppose RAISE, preferring open borders that will amplify their underprivileged voting bloc.
Acknowledgement is given to Mark Krikorian’s article on 8-2-17 in The National Interest for information in this column.