The Cotton-Perdue RAISE Act is a refreshing effort to help American workers
© Getty

"Senators introduce bill that helps American workers." No, this isn’t a title from an article in "The Onion" but instead the most succinct statement to describe the work being done by Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTrump throws support behind criminal justice bill McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip Criminal justice reform faces a make-or-break moment MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). With great fanfare, President Trump and the two senators released a revised version of the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, a commonsense bill that actually recognizes the American people as the primary stakeholders in our immigration system.

Since 1965, U.S. immigration policy has prioritized nepotism—extended family relationships—over skills. As a result of our chain migration policies, the U.S. hands out over 1.1 million new green cards a year with approximately two-thirds going to immigrants who happen to have a family member in the country, regardless of that immigrant’s ability to assimilate and contribute to the economy. For some perspective, that is the equivalent of adding the entire population of Montana every year. Just one out of every 15 new immigrants are awarded green cards because of their skills.

The results are unsurprising. Decades of flooding the labor force with low-skilled workers has caused blue collar wages to flat-line or decrease. In many cases, most notably construction, new low-skilled immigrants have replaced blue collar Americans, especially native born minority males. A few years ago, the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies found that an astounding 51 percent of immigrant-headed households (legal and illegal) rely on at least one federal taxpayer-funded welfare program, compared to 30 percent of native households.

ADVERTISEMENT

For more than 50 years, our immigration system has worked without much logic. Cotton and Perdue's would now make it points-based. The RAISE Act scraps our current employment-based green card framework and replaces it with a skills-based points system. Nations like Australia and Canada already do this; it’s about time the U.S. followed suit. This merit-based system would award points based on education, English proficiency, job skills, age (meaning prime working age), and entrepreneurial investment—factors that prioritize those best able to succeed and contribute to the American economy.

 

If we can better select immigrants who are going to succeed in the U.S., we’ve not only helped them better themselves but have also bettered our nation as well.

The RAISE Act would also unshackle the chain migration approach that has operated as codified nepotism. A key component of this bill is limiting family-based green cards to the nuclear family, meaning spouses and minor children. If the siblings or adult children of a citizen want to come to the U.S., they are now going to have to earn their way in. Sensibly, the bill does allow U.S. citizens to bring in their non-citizen elderly parents for caretaking purposes, but they cannot access taxpayer funded services.

The bill has two other important provisions to restore integrity to our immigration system. First, it ends the visa lottery where the U.S. randomly hands out 55,000 green cards a year by arbitrarily pulling names out of a hat. Additionally, it sets an annual cap on refugee admissions at 50,000, consistent with a 13-year average. Combined, the RAISE Act is expected to reduce overall legal immigration to around 550,000 per year within a decade—a 50 percent reduction compared to current levels.

While Cotton and Perdue should be applauded for their work, the core of the RAISE Act is not a new idea. In fact, more than twenty years ago, President Clinton created a bipartisan commission to review every aspect of U.S. immigration policy. Led by late civil rights leader and Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan, the commission in 1996 recommended an end to chain migration, prioritizing immigrant admissions based on skills, and limiting overall immigration to 550,000 per year. Sound familiar? Clinton and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle fully endorsed the Jordan Commission’s recommendations.

Naturally, because this is Washington, those recommendations were never implemented. Now, after more than 20 years of maintaining the status quo, Sens. Cotton and Perdue want to finally raise the standards of U.S. green card policy. President Trump is on board and the American people widely support it, so will Congress finally rise to the occasion and pass legislation that serves the national interest?

Robert Law is the director of government relations at the nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform.


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