Earlier this past summer, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced a bill dubbed Reforming American Immigration for Strong Economy (RAISE) Act. It received a heartfelt endorsement by President Trump at the White House, though little else has been publicized about it. The bill’s purpose is declared to be amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act to “establish a skills-based immigration points system, to focus family- sponsored immigration on spouses and minor children, to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, to set the limit on the number of refugees admitted annually to the United States, and for other purposes.”
Were the RAISE Act to become law, the number of green card holders admitted to the U.S. will be cut in half; employment-based visas will be based on a points-system considering education level, age and earning potential; severe restrictions on family-based immigrants will be imposed; the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. will be reduced and the popular Diversity Visa Program will be eliminated.
Though details of the proposed legislation are still scant, a couple of policy changes are worth noting. First, the Act is sweeping repudiation of the family unit as a cardinal pillar underlying U.S. immigration system. For nearly a century, family reunification has been the principal policy in U.S. immigration. The notion has been that people are as strong as the families that nurture them. It is a core American (and one daresay, conservative) value.
Upending the family-system of immigration as proposed by the Act will be a major shift in public policy. It may engender unintended consequences, not the least of which is a further disintegration of the family unit. How many high-skilled professionals are comfortable with leaving entire families in their home countries for simply for the lure of working and living (alone) in the U.S.?
Also, the Act’s premise is blatantly misleading: that family-based immigration avenues are now unlimited and uncontrolled. On the contrary, current law imposes relatively severe limits on visas available to persons immigrating based on family relationships. With the exception of immediate relatives (spouses, minor unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens), Congress imposes a cap on foreign-born persons seeking to enter the United States as family-based immigrants. Ironically, the Act’s proponents are senators (presumably with conservative and family values) who seem perfectly comfortable with tearing families asunder, provided they are foreign-born.
Second, the letter and spirit of the Act flies in the face of well-publicized economic data. Among leading economists, there is hardly debate that immigration has been beneficial to the U.S. economy over the years. Taking entrepreneurship as an example, some of the country’s largest, well-known and most profitable businesses were started by immigrants including Yahoo!, eBay, Google, Comcast, Nordstrom, Colgate, Kraft Foods, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Apple, Dupont, Proctor and Gamble and others. In 2010, the listed Fortune 500 companies started by immigrants employed over 3.6 million people and generated $1.7 trillion in revenues.
Also, evidence shows that immigrants were twice as likely to start a business as the native-born population. Traditional immigrant cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Minneapolis/St. Paul have greatly benefited from immigrant-driven revitalization and entrepreneurial growth. It is ironic that a bill designed to enhance economic growth would target one of its strongest link.
At a time when unemployment is at historic lows and impending retirement of millions of baby boomers, reducing potential workforce numbers appears fundamentally flawed. These inevitable demographic changes compel the opposite approach, if the overall objective of the RAISE Act is reforming immigration for a stronger economy.
Third, the bill’s drafters appear to ask and purport to answer, the wrong question(s). There are justifiable concerns among the immigrant communities that the Act is a mere pretext to favor immigrants of a certain race or color – a thin-veiled attack on the increasingly changing racial make-up the U.S. It is also not a coincidence that some of the bill’s ardent supporters are known anti-immigrant crusaders/supremacists. For instance, the authors offer no basis for requiring English proficiency prior to immigrating to the U.S, or evidence that immigrants have difficulty in learning the language once settled here. By requiring would-be immigrants to have high educational, financial and other accomplishments, the bill undercuts its own objective as few foreign-born persons fitting this bill would be interested in moving to the U.S. It takes “opportunity” out of the mantra: “land of opportunity”.
Finally, by eliminating the DV lottery system (which has greatly benefitted applicants from countries with low immigration into the U.S.), the bill virtually guarantees a reduction in immigrants from continental Africa. This inevitably slows down the “browning” of America.
Perhaps on a positive note, the bill underscores the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform in the country. Tinkering around the edges with populist half-measures will yield little result. Neither would demonizing immigrants irrespective of evidence to the contrary. If the ultimate goal is to reform the broken immigration system (both legal and illegal), then the solution must involve all stakeholders, uphold time-honored American family values and expand opportunities for U.S. businesses to grow and thrive. In its current form, the RAISE Act is a far cry from these American ideals.