No sooner had President Trump embraced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., than the predictable eruption of false and deceptive claims spewed forth from every direction.
What does it really do? The RAISE Act cuts unskilled and family chain migration. The bill would give American workers a break while increasing the skill set of new immigrants, making immigration more manageable, affordable, and consistent with our national interests and those of the American worker. Any reasonable person would wonder why we haven't made these changes years ago.
Opponents of the bill, mostly tied to cheap labor users and other vested interests, make many dubious, speculative arguments in their defense of the status quo. For example, they claim that cuts to unskilled immigration will produce a labor shortage. In fact, it will produce an increase in wages and automation. Legal workers will have more bargaining leverage, and working conditions will improve.
The related claim that food will rot in the fields for want of labor is equally groundless. Americans will do any work for a market-clearing wage and under safe working conditions. Moreover, a special agricultural guest-worker program already exists, but many agricultural employers prefer to hire illegal immigrants who work for less.
Opponents of the RAISE Act have also claimed that it will actually cost American jobs. This is based on misguided speculation that cutting immigration would prompt employers to go out of business rather than hire Americans or invest in labor-saving technology. There is no reason to believe this is true. The RAISE Act will help reduce taxes, decrease welfare dependency, and ensure that those we do admit can carry their own weight. It's a mystery how any of this would eliminate American jobs, especially considering that immigrants with businesses, skills and professions — the very ones most likely to hire rather than displace American workers — would be prioritized for admission under the proposed new system.
Speaking of which, that prioritization gives rise to the argument that the bill is "elitist" because it selects immigrants based on a merit-based points system. But in adopting such a system, the U.S. would merely be updating its selection criteria to match those of the world's other advanced nations, such as Canada and Australia. It would help us attract truly productive talent while preventing some labor displacement. In fact, it hews very closely to the recommendations of a 1990s presidential commission chaired by noted civil rights leader Barbara Jordan.
The most common argument against the RAISE Act is simply that it slashes levels of legal immigration. And although it does cut back from current levels, it brings legal immigration back to a level consistent with our historic averages. There is nothing written in stone that says 2017 immigration levels are ideal. Indeed, many workers feel they aren't and want to see lowered immigration as a way of raising Americans' wages and living standards.
When all else fails, they trot out the emotional argument that the RAISE Act is heartless and tears apart families. This is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and there are a lot of them out there.
But nepotistic chain migration has proven an unworkable construct for decades.The RAISE Act, instead of permitting endless chains of family relations to petition on one another's behalf, sets up a system to ensure nuclear families (primary immigrant, spouse and minor children) remain intact. But it also sets up a rule of reason: Permission to live in the U.S. is not a free ticket to bringing in your married adult brothers and sisters, along with their families.
In short, the RAISE Act makes our immigration system good for America by making it affordable, manageable, compatible with our actual labor needs, and consistent with our overall priorities as a nation. Instead of extending the life of our uncontrolled, mismanaged immigration system, the RAISE Act takes an enlarged view of the national interest as well as that of future generations.
Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, in Washington D.C.
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