Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler and Ted Mann
August 02, 2017
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump announced a proposal to cut legal immigration by half on Wednesday, supporting a Senate measure that has divided Republicans over whether and how sharply to limit migration into the U.S.
Mr. Trump met Wednesday morning in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, sponsors of a measure to sharply reduce the number of green cards issued annually to people seeking permanent residence in the U.S.
The proposal would replace the existing system with an application process that prioritizes high-skilled workers, those who speak English, and newcomers who are financially stable enough to avoid relying on the welfare system, the president said. The bill would deny green cards to some who are now eligible, including the adult children and extended family of current green-card holders.
“For decades, the U.S. has operated a very low-skilled immigration system,” Mr. Trump said. “It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.
“This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.”
Mr. Trump has championed a clampdown on illegal immigration, a central theme of his presidential campaign. He also backs strict limits on legal immigration, saying foreigners provide unwanted competition for American workers.
Sens. Perdue and Cotton say their proposal would boost the wages of the working-class Americans by restricting migration of low-skilled workers and prioritizing those with advanced skills, similar to systems in place in Australia and Canada.
The proposal is “proven to work,” Mr. Perdue said. “This is not an experiment.”
A Cotton aide said the sponsors estimate that the legislation would decrease overall immigration to about 638,000 in its first year—a 41% drop—and to about 540,000 by its 10th year—a 50% reduction.
Nonetheless, the proposal is unlikely to advance. An earlier version of the bill, introduced in February, didn’t attract broad support. This type of legislation needs 60 votes to surmount a filibuster, with Democrats and some Senate Republicans likely opposed. Many lawmakers support the family-based immigration rules, which aid those already in the country who want to bring loved ones to the county.
The bill would give the immediate family members of U.S. residents priority in seeking to emigrate to the country, including spouses and minor children, according to a summary prepared by the White House. But it would end that preference for adult children and extended family members.
The bill also eliminates the existing Diversity Visa lottery system, a lottery by which people from underrepresented countries can win green cards. It would also limit the number of permanent resident permits issued to refugees to 50,000 a year, well below the numbers admitted in the final years of the Obama administration. Sponsors say that the lower limit is in line with the average number of refugees granted residency over the past 13 years.
Many economists and business interests counter that immigration provides a net benefit to the American economy and have urged the administration not to introduce new barriers to migrants seeking to enter the country legally.
Speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room, as aides including political strategist Stephen Bannon looked on, Mr. Trump called the bill “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”
Mr. Cotton struck a different tone a few minutes later outside the White House.
“We’re not trying to boil the ocean here,” he said, in response to questions about the likelihood that the bill could become law. The proposal to curb green cards is a “relatively modest, incremental step,” Mr. Cotton said.
Anti-immigration organizations praised the bill on Wednesday. The proposal “will do more than any other action to fulfill President Trump’s promises as a candidate to create an immigration system that puts the interests of American workers first,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which supports reduced immigration, in a written statement.
Opponents of the measure note the widespread view of economists that immigration has a positive impact on the U.S.
Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the advocacy group New American Economy, said his group supports more merit-based immigration but not a reduction in other types. “The notion that…you need to dramatically reduce low-skilled immigration is not only unsupported by economics, it’s contradicted by it,” he said. He pointed to immigrant willingness to do a range of low-skilled jobs, such as home health care and agriculture.
“There are absolutely problems with our immigration system, and we need to do a better job of both attracting talent and protecting American workers, but what he’s proposing won’t help the workers he is setting out to protect. It will wreak havoc on the American economy,” he said.
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