America celebrates personal merit — US immigration should too
© Getty Images

It’s not often that you can put a group of diverse Americans with vastly different political and cultural views into a group and ask them to come to a consensus about policy recommendations regarding a very controversial issue. But that’s precisely what happened in 1996 when President Bill ClintonBill ClintonAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE asked former Texas congresswoman and civil rights leader, Barbara Jordan, to lead a presidential commission that would offer this nation a new path forward on immigration.

After several years of discussion, the Jordan Commission recommended that the U.S. reform its badly outdated immigration policies, by moving the nation to a skills based immigration system that kept nuclear families intact while reducing overall immigrant numbers to roughly half the current flow of 1.1 million.

Unfortunately, like many presidential commissions, these recommendations went largely ignored — until now. President Trump, along with Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) announced the RAISE Act, a bill that would in essence, put into law most of the topline recommendations of the Jordan Commission. If enacted the bill would replace this nation’s outdated, 1960s-era immigration system with a more effective, merit-based system similar to those enacted by both Canada and Australia.


The RAISE Act:

  • Abolishes extended family chain migration and replaces it with a merit-based system. Currently, the vast majority of immigrants who enter this nation are handed visas not because they have any particular skill set or talents, but simply because they have an extended family member here. As a result, nearly one-quarter of legal immigrants have less than a high school education. Little wonder they are ill prepared to compete in our modern economy.
  • Prioritizes the immediate, nuclear family. Immigrants who are selected to come to the U.S. will be allowed to bring with them their spouse and minor children. Any other relatives wishing to immigrate here will have to compete against everyone else for the limited number of visas.
  • Ends senseless programs like the Visa Lottery, which hands out highly coveted visas to the U.S. through a random lottery system. There are millions of people around the world who would like the chance to compete for a U.S. visa. Handing them out by lottery is a silly and ill-conceived idea.
  • Caps refugee admissions at 50,000, which is the current number set by the Trump administration.
  • Caps total immigration at 550,000 — as suggested by the bi-partisan Jordan Commission — which is more in line with this nation’s traditional level of immigration of 300,000 per year.

America is no longer a nation of wide-open frontiers and endless prairies. We are an advanced nation, with urban sprawl, traffic jams and severely congested major cities. Our immigration policies need to reflect this reality.

The RAISE Act also recognizes that the biggest losers from our current immigration policies are America’s most disadvantaged, who are scrambling for whatever entry-level jobs haven’t been lost to automation or taken by a recent immigrant. It was these Americans who rose up in the last election and tipped the electoral balance in favor of Trump. It’s their wages that have been hit the hardest, and it’s at their behest that we should fight to make these changes. 

One thing the RAISE Act doesn’t do is to make any changes to temporary worker programs, like the H-2A visas used by the nation’s farmers and ranchers or H-2B visas used by resorts or other businesses seeking temporary staffing. Those visas would be completely unaffected by this legislation, despite public comments to the contrary.

The RAISE Act is a truly American approach to immigration because at its core, it has the idea of personal merit. Many thousands of immigrants from across the world have been drawn here because they know that in the U.S., anyone who has the drive, intellect and talent can do something great with their life. America is a nation founded on the notion of personal merit. Our immigration policy should likewise reflect the same ideal.

A.J. (Andy) Louderback has served as sheriff in Jackson County, Texas for 16 years. Louderback is the past president of the Sheriffs Association of Texas and current legislative director. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.