By: Joseph Barnett, Esq.
Last week, President Trump endorsed the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (the “RAISE Act”), first introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) in February 2017. The RAISE Act seeks to curtail current legal immigration levels by 50% over the next decade, without a reasonable correlation to family reunification or the economic needs of the country, by establishing a point-based system that favors individuals between the ages of 26-30 with high English level proficiency, high education levels, and a job offer with a high salary. This would mark a major, fundamental shift in U.S. immigration law, which for at least the past century has promoted immigration policies that (a) reunite families; (b) admit workers with specific skills and to fill positions in occupations experiencing labor shortages; (c) provide a refuge for people facing political, racial, or religious persecution; and (d) ensure diversity.
While President Trump’s endorsement has failed to gain the RAISE Act any legislative traction, and while it is unlikely to pass the current U.S. Congress, the bill’s so-called “merit-based” system is, in reality, merely subtext behind an restrictionist immigration agenda which seeks to keep those who are different (in race, religion, etc.) from entering the United States. Wolfsdorf Rosenthal’s piece on the hidden meaning behind a “merit-based” immigration system, An Era of Uncertainty: Potential US Immigration Policy Changes under the Trump Administration has been published by Who’s Who Legal.
Here are 5 reasons why the RAISE Act is bad policy:
- The RAISE Act Darkens America’s Beacon of Light and Hope. The RAISE Act would allow only 50,000 refugees into the U.S. each year and eliminates the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, as amended, defines “refugee” as those persons outside his or her country who, because of a “well-founded fear or persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” is unable or unwilling to return to that country. See INA § 101(a)(42)(A). Prohibiting the entry of individuals who are unable to pursue life, liberty, and happiness for reasons beyond one’s control or because of one’s differing viewpoints than a foreign government is patently un-American. Anti-refugee sentiment, combined with President Trump’s proposed travel ban against nationals from the Middle East or other countries with predominantly-Muslim populations, is a simple, but effective, recruitment tool for terrorist organizations hoping to recruit those who feel they have no other better options or any outside support. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program provides relief to those from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S., and although it could be retooled to support immigration programs that better support U.S. workers, diversity in America remains one of our country’s greatest strengths for attracting talent abroad The RAISE Act is thus another example of President Trump supporting an unpopular proposal that pits “us” against “them” and which doesn’t live up to our country’s “New Colossus” history of accepting immigrants.
- The RAISE Act Cripples the Ability of U.S. Businesses to Hire or Retain Skilled Workers. Because of its “point-based” structure, the proposed bill provides no way for a U.S. company to know whether the foreign national it wishes to provide a job to will be qualified by the U.S. government to enter the country. This is particularly true for foreign nationals waiting their turns in the current backlogs for legal U.S. immigration benefits and for foreign students wishing to create their own American dream, as the RAISE Act includes no transition plan for those currently affected by backlogs. For all their zealous support on “freedom of contract” and laissez-faire economic policies that destroy our environment and weaken the middle class, the Republicans supporting the RAISE Act seem intent on picking the “winners” and “losers” of employment of foreign nationals in the U.S., as opposed to letting U.S. businesses determine which employees are best suited for their respective companies.
- The RAISE Act Wrongfully Eliminates Family-Based Visa Categories. The RAISE Act reduces the worldwide family-based quota to merely 88,000 (or less) and would prevent U.S. citizens from sponsoring green card applications of their grown adult family members, though it does create a renewable, temporary visa for parents of U.S. citizens who can also demonstrate health insurance coverage and adequate financial support for their stay. However, for green card holders, the RAISE Act eliminates preferences for extended family and for grown adult family members. Moreover, pending applications in eliminated categories are voided except for those for people scheduled to receive a green card within a year. The U.S.’ goal for family unification would take backseat (or be shoved in the trunk) to its goal for skilled workers to benefit the U.S. economy. However, recent studies by the Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Research Center demonstrate that immigrants are not an economic burden to the U.S. and do not lower wages for U.S. workers. Notably, for all their concern about U.S. worker’s wages and well-being, the Republican senators supporting the RAISE Act have failed to cite to (or attempt to fix) other potential factors that contributed to depressed wages for U.S. middle and lower classes, such as globalization, automation, deregulation, corporatism, increased healthcare costs, declining union density, and changes in labor market policies and business practices. Only the increase of low-skilled immigrants are to blame for the current economic decline of Americans who fail to invest in their own future or care enough to get an advanced education necessary to participate in today’s workforce. Interestingly, the RAISE Act seems to negate the traditionally conservative tenets of a hard work ethic, respectability, and self-sufficiency.
- The RAISE Act Would Reduce Foreign Investment in the U.S. The RAISE Act’s point system would grant only 6 points to a foreign national who invests and maintains $1.35M in a new U.S. commercial enterprise and 12 points if that investment level is increased to $1.8M. Yet, because of the mechanics of the “point-based” system, such an investment would not provide reasonable certainty that green status would necessarily result. The U.S.’ current investor visa program brought in over $19 billion from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2016 and has created thousands of jobs for U.S. workers. Although the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is certainly in need of reforms, the RAISE Act does nothing to encourage, and actually discourages, foreign investment in the U.S.
- The RAISE Act Fails to Allocate Sufficient Resources for Reasonable Immigration Processing. Part of ensuring integrity for the U.S. immigration system involves administrative fixes to the processing of U.S. immigration benefits and adjudications by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”), and by immigration judges. Standard processing times and immigration backlogs have dramatically increased in the past decade, inhibiting the ability of U.S. companies and foreign nationals to plan for their businesses and families, respectively. For example, because of the limited number of visas and “per-country” limitations, a married son or daughter from Mexico of a U.S. citizen currently needs to wait over 20 years to enter the U.S. through legal family-based immigration. The RAISE Act does little, if nothing, to reduce these absurd wait times of millions in a fair and reasonable manner.
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