Trump, GOP senators to introduce bill to slash legal immigration levels

At a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25, President Trump said that instead of the current “terrible system where anybody comes in,” with a green card, he wants to create a merit-based system of legal immigration. (The Washington Post)

President Trump will appear with a pair of conservative Republican senators at the White House on Wednesday to unveil legislation aimed at slashing legal immigration levels over a decade, a goal Trump endorsed on the campaign trail.

Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) have been working with the Trump administration to refine a bill they first introduced in February that aims to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards per year granting foreigners permanent legal residence in the United States. The revised legislation also is expected to put stricter limits on temporary work visas for lower skilled immigrants.

The outlines of the legislation reflect the aims Trump touted on the campaign trail, when he argued that the rapid growth of immigration over the past half century had harmed job opportunities for American workers and led to risks to national security. Trump has met twice at the White House with Cotton and Perdue to discuss the details of their legislation, which is titled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act.

In a speech last week in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump praised the senators’ efforts, calling their legislation a pathway to creating a “merit-based” immigration system.

“Instead of today’s low-skill system — just a terrible system where anybody comes in, people that have never worked, people that are criminals, anybody comes in — we want a merit-based system,” Trump said, “one that protects workers our workers, our taxpayers, and one that protects our economy.”

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Despite criticism, a federal program that awards U.S. permanent residency to foreigners through a lottery has been around for almost 30 years. This is how the lottery works. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

The legislation would mark a major shift in U.S immigration laws, which over the past half century have permitted a growing number of immigrants to come to the country to work or join relatives. To achieve the reductions, Cotton and Perdue are taking aim at green cards for extended family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, including grown children, grandparents and siblings. Minor children and spouses would still be allowed to apply for green cards.

The senators also propose to end a visa diversity lottery that has awarded 50,000 green cards a year, mostly to areas in the world that traditionally do not have as many immigrants to the United States, including Africa. Aides to Cotton said the bill will not include provisions to limit low-skilled temporary workers. It could make changes to programs for highly skilled workers in technology and other fields, and it is expected to cap refugee levels at 50,000 per year.

“We have historically high levels of immigration in this country, and the vast majority of immigrants do not come based on skills or language ability,” Cotton said in an interview with The Washington Post last month. “The president supports this legislation. We’re putting the final touches on it and will reintroduce a new version soon.”

But the bill is expected to face fierce resistance from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups, and could face opposition from business leaders and some moderate Republicans in states with large immigrant populations. Opponents of slashing immigration levels said immigrants help boost the economy and that studies have shown they commit crimes at lower levels than do native-born Americans.

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“This is just a fundamental restructuring of our immigration system which has huge implications for the future,” said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies. “This is part of a broader strategy by this administration to rid the country of low-skilled immigrants they don’t favor in favor of immigrants in their image.”