Republican Senators Introduce Bill To Cut Legal Immigration in Half

The RAISE Act would strongly prioritize high-skilled immigrants.


A trio of Republican senators reintroduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE) Act last week, which seeks to reduce legal immigration by 50 percent.

Spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) with support from Sens. David Perdue (R–Ga.) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), the bill would establish a merit-based point system that prizes those with lucrative job offers, U.S.-recognized college degrees, domestic financial holdings, and English language skills. It also aims to undercut White House Adviser Jared Kushner, who has pushed a plan in recent months that would give temporary visas to migrant workers.

President Trump lauded the RAISE Act when it was first unveiled in July 2017, characterizing the current immigration setup as "a terrible system where anybody comes in," particularly "people that have never worked" and "people that are criminals."

But almost none of that is true: The low-skill immigrants that the president has cast as criminal welfare queens are anything but. Those same people tend to be steadily employed, use fewer government resources, commit crimes at a lower rate than the native-born, and consistently drive innovation.

In recent months, however, the vast majority of Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has been narrowly directed toward the undocumented, potentially signaling a change of tune. "Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways," the president said during his 2019 State of the Union address. "I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally."

Yet how the RAISE Act would further Trump's new open-arms attitude toward legal migrants remains to be seen, as the bill proposes to slash successful applicants in half. Nor is it apparent how it would curb illegal immigration, if that's an unstated goal.

In any case, the bill's bare-bones proposal would cost the country 4.6 million jobs, with the gross domestic product sinking 2 percent over the next few decades, according to an analysis by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School. "Job losses emerge because domestic workers will not fill all the jobs that immigrant workers would have filled," researchers conclude, particularly as the country is already experiencing a labor shortage.

What's more, low-skill workers—whom the bill threatens to exclude almost entirely—constitute a core section of the U.S. workforce, particularly in the agricultural, construction, and transportation sectors, among others.

The rebirth of the RAISE Act is certainly a bad thing, particularly if Trump is serious about welcoming more legal immigrants. But even more troublesome is the current system as a whole, so burdened by a bureaucratic slew of rules that even the most experienced policymakers don't seem to understand. In 2017, Kansas's then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach said of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients: "Go home and get in line, come into the United States legally, then get a green card, then become a citizen." That same year, over 22.4 million people applied for one of the 50,000 green cards allotted. That means that approximately 99.8 percent of people were denied lawful permanent residence through the visa lottery program.

"Go the legal way," they say.

But a low-skill Mexican immigrant seeking residence to the States has to wait an average of 131 years for approval. That's time no person has to spare—and it's likely why more than 11 million people opted for the illegal route.

That immigrants keep the economy in motion is not lost on Trump. "I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in," said Trump after his State of the Union address. "We need people."

He's right. We need people. But those people will be hard to come by with a bill like the RAISE Act, and even harder still so long as the legal system remains impenetrable.