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Opinion: Trump-backed Legal Immigration Bill Is Based On a Lie

The promise that one fewer legal immigrant to the U.S. equals one more employed native-born American sounds nice, but is based on a lie.
Image: The Statue of Liberty is seen from  Battery Park in New York on Feb. 8, 2017.
The Statue of Liberty is seen from Battery Park in New York on Feb. 8, 2017.JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images

Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE), the immigration proposal that got resounding support from President Donald Trump, has a nice ring to it. But it’s a flat out lie.

The RAISE Act proposes to slash legal immigration to the United States by half. The promised result – strengthening the American economy – is supposed to happen because, as its drafters explain it, the reduction of legal immigrants directly translates into the employment of native-born Americans.

If only saving American jobs were as easy as a one-to-one translation: one fewer immigrant equals one more employed native-born American.

According to its supporters, in just the first year of the proposal, legal immigration would decrease by 637,960. So, by the administration’s calculations, we should be seeing a 637,960 job increase among native-born Americans.

It’s not that easy. And beyond that, the RAISE Act would push American jobs abroad and would boost undocumented immigration. Put it all together and the American economy becomes weaker, not stronger.

There’s a common misperception that immigrants cost Americans their jobs. The fact of the matter is that immigration helps American job growth. A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that for the arrival of every 1,000 immigrants, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved. Those are jobs that would have disappeared or moved elsewhere, according to the study.

Immigration protects American jobs. It is no coincidence that today’s thriving manufacturing areas are also areas with higher rates of immigration, such as Houston, Phoenix or Los Angeles.

Beyond a net positive for the manufacturing sector, immigrants contribute to the vitality of the economy by disproportionately consisting of entrepreneurs. In 2014, new Americans made up 20 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs, but were just 13 percent of the overall U.S. population. Whether it’s by starting a tech firm or a taco truck, immigrants are creating jobs and strengthening the U.S. economy.

Related: Latinos, Including Conservatives, Blast Immigration Bill as Discriminatory, 'Nativist'

Fewer immigrants means fewer jobs for native-born Americans.

The RAISE Act doesn’t just decrease the number of American jobs. It will also have the effect of suppressing wages because it will boost undocumented immigration. There will continue to be a job demand that outstrips the supply of American workers or legal immigrants. To fill that gap, we will see greater numbers of undocumented workers finding a way into the United States.

Undocumented immigrants live and work in the shadows where unscrupulous employers can take advantage of them. Instead of paying a worker the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, an employer whose hiring pool is only undocumented labor may pay $5 or $6 instead. And here is where the real downward spiral of wage suppression happens — employers who don't want to pay the higher wages will be more likely to turn to undocumented labor.

They get used to the cheaper labor and will not come up in their wages. Whether it is through depressed wages, lack of workplace safety, or sexual misconduct, undocumented immigrants have no recourse but to put up with their situation.

It is a lose-lose situation. Native-born workers suffer the same as immigrants.

There is no question that there is a need for immigration reform. However, the RAISE Act remedy is worse than the illness. Immigration reform must be comprehensive and balance out the multiple moving parts of immigration — legal, undocumented, high tech, low-skilled, employer sanctions, etc. Only then will reforming American Immigration make for a stronger economy.

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