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GOP Plan To Slash Legal Immigration Wins Trump's Support

President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., left, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., left, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
GOP Plan To Slash Legal Immigration Wins Trump's Support
GOP Plan To Slash Legal Immigration Wins Trump's Support GUEST:John Skrentny, director, UC San Diego Center for Comparative Immigration Studies

Our top story, a proposal that would cut immigration to the U.S. by more than half was presented by President Trump on Wednesday. The bill calls for a merit-based system of choosing immigrants based on factors such as skill level and the ability to speak English. This would replace the traditional policy of gathering them from bad -- family members. Joining me is the director of the UC San Diego Center for comparative immigration studies. Welcome to the program.I am happy to be here.President Trump wants to return the number of foreign-born numbers to the historic norm. Is there historic norm ?The fact of the matter is, the number of migrants has addend throat -- flowed through history. Congress has repeatedly tinkered with the legislative tools available to shape the flow and getting the people that they deemed acceptable or most desirable. If you look at the whole history of the United States, the big story is that we have had a lot of racist and ethnic kind of preferences in immigration policy. The unification preferences which are now the traditions that have been here for half a century, the origins of those are tied up with the efforts to eliminate the racist and ethnic precedents. It is a tangled web. It has political conflict. Every time the president wants to look into it.The proposal announced by the president would give preference to skilled workers, highly skilled workers. In your study, does America need an influx of skilled immigrants ?Let me say this. We really need to have a conversation about what immigration is for. There is a background assumption that immigration is an economic policy among many people. A lot of people do not agree with that. They think it is a humanitarian policy and others take up immigration as something that is part of the American tradition and something that is wrapped up with American identity. There are different ideas floating around in that is part of the reason why we have talked past each other and there are emotions involved in the debate. You know, for many years, beginning in the 1880s into the mid-1960s, we had exclusions of Asian people and people from Europe. Congress got around to eliminating those. The first effort proposed by John F. Kennedy and then after he was assassinated by an and in Johnson. They emphasize skills. This is not a new idea. The move to make family reunification references, the cornerstone of the immigration and nationality act was proposed by white Southerners. The motives were not to the kind of motives that you would want to be bragging about. I did research on this and I looked at the archives. They wanted family reunification policies to preserve America's whiteness because most of the immigrants were people of Caucasian background. That was a movement against the Democratic proposal which emphasize skills. There has been a long idea since the mid-1960s. The United States should emphasize skills. It was replaced by the family reunification preference with -- which was used by non-European you -- groups. Now, they tend to be people from countries other than Europe. The debate about skills has been just as long as the debate about unification preferences. It is tough.It would set up a point system for a merit based look for choosing immigrants. One of the points would give preference to people who speak English. Why do you think that requirement would be there? You think it would be more practical or are there political overtones ?I do not like to frame this as a shift from family to merit. You know, the way you define merit can be considered in different ways. The way the new bill defines merit is to basically emulate a system of immigration policies that exist in Canada and Australia. Those policies include points or bonuses for having members of the family already in Canada or Australia. The policies also include points to encourage or to give preference to immigrants where the governments believe they are more likely to integrate into Canadian and Australian society. That is partly what is going on. They are looking around. Usually people in the Republican Party do not like to copy other countries, especially Canada which is seen as more progressive but in this case, that is almost exactly what they are doing. He gives preferences to skill and education levels and the ability to speak languages or be culturally integrated and he gives preferences for having family members. It is a comprehensive kind of look. The real controversy here, I think with the bill that Trump came behind yesterday is that it would cut the numbers of overall immigrants. It was/that number in half. That is a lot of controversy. For a lot of people in the United States who are waiting for decades for relatives to be able to get the visas, the notion that that Bill could change would be very frustrating and disappointing.I have been speaking with John, the director of the San Diego center for comparative immigration studies. Thank you.I am happy to be here. Thank you.

President Donald Trump has embraced legislation that would dramatically reduce legal immigration and shift the nation toward a system that prioritizes merit and skills over family ties.

Trump joined with Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to promote the bill, which so far has gained little traction in the Senate.

"This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first," Trump said during an event Wednesday in the White House's Roosevelt Room.

It was the latest example of the president championing an issue that animated the core voters of his 2016 campaign, following decisions to pull out of the Paris climate treaty and ban transgender people from the military.

Perdue and Cotton's legislation would replace the current process for obtaining legal permanent residency, or green cards, creating a skills-based point system for employment visas. The bill would also eliminate the preference for U.S. residents' extended and adult family members, while maintaining priority for their spouses and minor children.

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Overall, immigration would be slashed 41 percent in the legislation's first year and 50 percent in its 10th, according to projection models cited by the bill's sponsors. The bill would also aim to slash the number of refugees in half and eliminate a program that provides visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration.

The rollout included a combative press briefing led by Trump policy aide Stephen Miller, who clashed with the media over the plan and accused one reporter of being "cosmopolitan" when he suggested it would only bring in English-speaking people from Britain and Australia.

The president has made cracking down on illegal immigration a hallmark of his administration and has tried to slash federal grants for cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally.

But he has also vowed to make changes to the legal immigration system, arguing that immigrants compete with Americans for much-needed jobs and drive wages down.

Most economists dispute the president's argument, noting that immigration in recent decades doesn't appear to have meaningfully hurt wages in the long run. Increased immigration is also associated with faster growth because the country is adding workers, so restricting the number of immigrants could slow the economy's potential to expand.

The bill's supporters, meanwhile, say it would make the U.S. more competitive, raise wages and create jobs.

Backers said the bill would sharply increase the proportion of green cards available to high-skilled workers and would not affect other high or low-skilled worker visa programs such as H1-B and H2-B visas. The Trump Organization has asked for dozens of H-2B visas for foreign workers at two of Trump's private clubs in Florida, including his Mar-a-Lago resort.

The White House said that only 1 in 15 immigrants comes to the U.S. because of their skills, and the current system fails to place a priority on highly skilled immigrants.

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But the Senate has largely ignored a previous version of the measure, with no other lawmaker signing on as a co-sponsor. GOP leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year, and Democrats quickly dismissed it.

"The bottom line is to cut immigration by half a million people, legal immigration, doesn't make much sense," said Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, who called it a "nonstarter."

The bill would create a new points-based system for applicants seeking to become legal permanent residents, favoring those who can speak English, have high-paying job offers, can financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy. A little more than 1 million green cards were issued in 2015.

In a nod to his outreach to blue-collar workers during the campaign, Trump said the measure would prevent new immigrants from collecting welfare for a period of time and help U.S. workers by reducing the number of unskilled laborers entering the U.S.

But the president is mischaracterizing many of the immigrants coming to the United States as low-skilled and dependent on government aid.

The Pew Research Center said in 2015 that 41 percent of immigrants who had arrived in the past five years held a college degree, much higher than the 30 percent of non-immigrants in the United States. A stunning 18 percent held an advanced degree, also much higher than the U.S. average.

Trump has long advocated for the changes and vowed during an immigration speech in Phoenix last August to overhaul the legal immigration system "to serve the best interests of America and its workers." He voiced support for the Senate bill at a rally last week in Ohio, where his call for a "merit-based system" that "protects our workers" generated loud cheers.

Some immigrant advocates have criticized the proposal, saying that slashing legal immigration would hurt industries like agriculture and harm the economy.

"Our system is broken, but the response should be to modernize it, not take a sledgehammer to it," said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.