GOP senators propose cutting back on legal immigration to US

GOP senators propose cutting back on legal immigration to US
© Greg Nash

Two GOP senators are proposing a cut on legal immigration to the United States, an idea backed by President Trump during his campaign for the White House.

Republicans Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites MORE (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) introduced legislation Tuesday that they said would effectively halve the number of green cards issued each year from 1 million to roughly 500,000. 

“Over the last 40 years we’ve seen a huge increase in immigration,” Cotton said, arguing that the current amount is out of line with “historical” levels. 

The legislation would nix immigration preferences for nonimmediate family members, adult children or adult parents of current legal permanent U.S. residents. 

Those restrictions, the senators argue, would help base immigration on employment needs. The legislation wouldn’t impact employment-based immigration. 

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“Unless we reverse this trend, we’re going to create a near-permanent underclass for whom the American dream is always out of reach,” Cotton said. 

The GOP proposal would end the State Department’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a decades-old lottery system that selects individuals from low-emigration countries to reside in the United States. 

Cotton argued the program is “rampant with fraud” and isn’t aimed at helping increase diversity. 

The bill would also cap the number of refugees allowed into the country annually at 50,000, similar to recent guidance from Trump. 

The legislation was met with quick blowback from Democrats.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Dem senator: Trump-Putin translator should tell Congress what was said MORE (D-N.H.) called the decision to nix the State Department lottery as "senseless."

“This legislation sends a terrible message to the rest of the world and is unquestionably a job killer,” she said. “As a nation of immigrants, this bill runs counter to our values."

The proposal comes as Republicans publicly grapple with how to tackle illegal immigration. 

Trump took a hard-line stance during the presidential campaign, pledging to deport roughly 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. 

He’s backed away from that for certain groups, including pledging to make a deal for the illegal immigrants — known as “dreamers” — who were brought into the country as young children. 

Cotton said he's spoken with the president as recently as Tuesday morning about the “concept” of the legislation. 

“He strongly supports the broad concept of ... moving our legal immigration system toward a merit-based system,” he said. 

Pressed on whether this was the White House’s bill, Cotton said, “I wouldn’t characterize President Trump’s view on specific pieces of legislation.” 

The two GOP senators painted their legislation as a break from previous “comprehensive” immigration bills that tried to tackle illegal and legal immigration simultaneously. 

Perdue argued that lawmakers should begin addressing immigration in easier-to-manage “components.” 

“We are simply trying today to bring a rational, compassionate approach to this different issue within the immigration conversation,” he said. “What you see today, we hope, is the beginning of a new approach.” 

The Senate previously passed a wide-ranging immigration reform bill in 2013, but that measure stalled in the House. 

Perdue said Tuesday that he believes Democrats could support the “ethos of the bill.”

“We’re hopeful that we’ll see this bill on the floor of the Senate this year,” he said. 

— This report was updated at 12:29 p.m.