Earlier this month, President Trump formally backed a modified version of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act or RAISE Act. The bill was first introduced into Congress by Republican Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Purdue (GA) earlier this year.
The legislation would decrease the number of legal immigrants admitted into the United States by half over the next ten years. It would also end provisions of the 1965 Immigration Act which allow relatives of citizens to immigrate into the country. The RAISE Act proposes a merit-based immigration system, which gives preference to highly-skilled and educated individuals.
Reductionist immigration schemes are not new to Washington. They have been pitched on both sides of the aisle for over twenty years. There was an influx of immigrants coming into the United States beginning in 1986 when a law granted citizenship to undocumented immigrants. A few years later there was the Immigration Act of 1990 which increased the number of legal immigrants entering the country.
Detractors at the time were Democrats, including Congresswoman Barbara Jordon (D-TX) who headed the Commission on Legal Immigration Reform. In 1995 the panel would recommend cutting legal immigration by a third. As the years went on and demographic of the party constituents became increasingly immigrant and minority, Democrats would amend their stance on immigration.
The ideals of the committee were accepted and lauded by resident Bill Clinton. He remarked that the vision of the committee was,
“Consistent with my own views, the commission’s recommendations are pro-family, pro-work, pro-naturalization.”
In 2007 George W. Bush’s immigration reform bill was shot down in a Democratic-controlled senate due to bipartisan opposition. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was a bill discussed in the 110th United States Congress under George W. Bush that would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Obama era legislation was killed in the Republican-controlled house in 2013. However, very little of the conversation during these two presidencies was on reducing legal immigration despite party differences.
The RAISE Act reintroduces concepts put forth by the 90s era Commission on Immigration Reform. The Jordan led Commission prioritized skills and education in immigration, while limiting family-based visa preferences for siblings and adult children. The current system allows extended relatives to come into the country. Jordan’s commission also proposed limiting the diversity lottery and the number of refugees admitted into the country annually – like the RAISE Act.
Although the original legislation proposed by Congresswoman Jordan met with bipartisan praise, critics of the RAISE Act’s merit-based system says that decreasing the number of low-skilled workers would hurt key industries within the economy. Proponents says emphasis on high-skilled workers will boost the economy. The Penn Wharton Budget Model forecasts that by 2027 the raise acts would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by .7percent and cost that U.S. 1.3 million jobs. By 2040 those numbers will have ballooned to 2 percent of the GDP and 4.6 million jobs – a grossly detrimental effect on the national economy.
The bill would need at least some Democratic support to survive the senate, and it’s unclear how much backing is available now. However, what’s clear from a quick look at history, is that the ideologies behind the RAISE Act are not new. It will be interesting to see if the political climate is ripe to pass this legislation under President Trump’s administration.