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Opinion: RAISE Act Would Change Racial Makeup of U.S. Immigrants

Image: Annual Parade Of Ships Kicks Off Fleet Week In New York

The USS Kearsarge joins The Parade of Ships as it makes its way past the Statue of Liberty on the opening day of Fleet Week on May 24, 2017 in New York. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

So much for your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

This week, President Donald Trump endorsed a plan by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., that would dramatically limit legal immigration. Their proposal would shift immigration away from a system based on family ties, and towards one based on high-level skills and education. Refugee admissions would be capped at 50,000 a year, and an international visa lottery would be eliminated.

But this is a proposal that runs counter to sound economic policy and core American values. It will make it harder for Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans to come here legally. While the bill is called the RAISE Act, short for “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy,” it can be summed up as Make America White Again.

Most economists agree that immigration is good for our economy; earlier this year, nearly 1,500 economic experts wrote an open letter to the Trump administration asserting just that.

Our economy depends on immigration for sustained economic growth, in part, because the Baby Boomer workforce is aging. Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2001, and there are 5.7 million job openings in the U.S. right now. Why would the Trump administration want to cut back on legal entries?

The answer has less to do with economics – and more with the influence of Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. In his former role running Breitbart News, Bannon waged an ongoing crusade against immigrants. Univision has reported on Miller’s lifetime antipathy towards Hispanics and multiculturalism. Miller, in a heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta at a Wednesday press conference, even distanced the administration from the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

It is the pernicious influence of Bannon and Miller, combined with Trump’s own tendency to regard Latinos as foreign and undesirable, that has led to the president announcing that he wants the U.S. to close its doors to people for no good reason.

Consider who would be adversely affected by the RAISE Act. Reducing entries based on family sponsorship would negatively impact Latin Americans and Asians, while cutting the number of refugees would mean allowing in fewer people from the Middle East.

The “diversity lottery” – which really is a lottery that allows lucky winners to come here – offers benefits to Africans and people from the Caribbean that they might not otherwise have. So despite the rhetoric of helping American workers, the RAISE Act amounts to a pretext for giving preference to white immigrants. It is telling that Cotton, according to the Huffington Post, once stated that an earlier version of this bill would prevent immigrants from bringing over their “village” or “tribe.”

An immigration system based on skills and “merit” may sound like a good idea. However, it would exclude many potential immigrants who simply do not have the opportunity to pursue higher education in their home country.

It would also cut against our tradition of welcoming those who want to come here legally and are willing to work hard and contribute to society. The immigrant entrepreneurs who founded companies like Google and Yahoo, for example, were not from well-off families. Neither were the parents of a certain Cuban-American senator from Florida.

Trump stated that the RAISE Act will prevent immigrants from coming here and “collecting welfare,” although most immigrants are already barred by law from receiving such benefits for five years. He said the bill would ensure that immigrants will assimilate. In fact, there is ample research showing that immigrants do assimilate and learn English.

Many Latinos are familiar with such arguments because they have typically been used as reasons to oppose illegal immigration. That this administration is deploying them against those who are willing to “get in line” represents a significant step backward for the country.

True, our immigration system is flawed and in need of an overhaul. But there is nothing in the RAISE Act that is going to give American workers a raise or revive manufacturing jobs. By curtailing legal immigration, the RAISE Act could have the unintended consequence of increasing illegal migration.

Ironically, under a system like this bill proposes, Friedrich Trump – the president’s grandfather – would likely have not been allowed into this country; he arrived in 1885 from Bavaria as a lowly barber’s apprentice.

The RAISE Act is not going to lift American workers or our economy. In truth, it only reflects the low regard that this administration has for immigrants and people of color.

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