Senators Move to Cut Legal Immigration in Half

Bill would severely curb chain migration, eliminate 'outdated' diversity lottery

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 07 Feb 2017 at 3:13 PM

A pair of Republican senators on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would severely curtail “chain migration,” which they contend would cut legal immigration in half within 10 years.

If it became law, it would be the most significant change to the U.S. immigration system in decades. Proponents argued that the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act would increase economic opportunity for low-income Americans by reducing competition from foreigners.

“Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.”

“We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said in a prepared statement. “Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.”

Perdue is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The most significant change would be to limit the ability of new citizens to sponsor extended family members to immigrate in the United States. The bill would allow citizens only to sponsor spouses and minor children.

Cotton and Perdue, citing research from professors at Harvard and Princeton universities, contend the bill would cut overall immigration by 41 percent in the first year and 50 percent by year 10. Each year, the United States legally admits more than 1 million new immigrants. Ten years after the bill passed, that number would drop to 539,958, according to the projections.

Other provisions of the bill include:

  • Eliminating an immigration lottery created in 1990 that awards 50,000 green cards each year at random to applicants in countries from which relatively few immigrants come to the United States.
  • Placing a permanent cap on refugee resettlement to 50,000 a year. That is the number set by President Donald Trump in his executive order temporarily halting the refugee program and in line with the average number in the last 13 yeas.
  • Creating a new temporary visa for the parents of immigrants in need of caretakers. Citizens would be able to sponsor parents on a renewable visa. They would not be permitted to work or receive government assistance.

Although illegal immigration usually dominates the debate in America, some advocacy groups argue that legal migration has a far greater impact on social services and the economy. NumbersUSA President Roy Beck in December went so far as to say the Trump administration would be a failure if it did not address chain migration.

“It is called the RAISE Act because it would truly set the stage for struggling Americans and immigrants already here to get a raise by reducing the flows of less-skilled immigrant workers who compete with them for jobs and wages,” Beck said in a statement praising the bill.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, called current immigration policy a “relic of the 1960s” that no longer serves the national interest.

“The RAISE Act hits the reset button on U.S. immigration policy and ensures the nation maintains its rich immigrant legacy while selecting immigrants capable of achieving their American dream,” he said in a prepared statement.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Cotton-Perdue bill would be the biggest change to immigration since Congress created the immigration lottery and increased employment-based green cards.

"This one is probably even more consequential than that one," she said.

Vaughan said the average immigrant admitted from 1981 through 2009 sponsored an average of 3.46 family members for immigration. She said she is not sure the RAISE Act would actually cut immigration in half. But she said the reduction would be significant.

"In the long run, because it's reducing the number of new immigrants, there would be an effect on immigration over time," she said. "A lot depends on other questions, as well. This analysis depends on not having amnesty, for instance."

Vaughan said granting amnesty to some of the illegal immigrants in the United States may be necessary for the bill to pass.

Vaughan noted the immigration lottery is riddled with fraud and brings in tens of thousands of immigrants each year with no regard to whether they have the skills and education to benefit America. In addition, she said, it creates new demand for immigration because lottery recipients can sponsor family members who would not be eligible for other immigration programs.

"In my opinion, there is no benefit," she said. "This is just gratuitous immigration."

The prospects of passing the bill are unclear. It likely will be a tough sell to Democrats, who have enough votes in the Senate to block any immigration legislation.

"It does face a tough road to passage because there [are] so many members of Congress who are influenced by employers who want to have a steady stream of low-cost workers from abroad," Vaughan said. "The point is, it's time to have a debate on this."

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