Hey Trump, Lady Liberty's promise actually matters to immigration law
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President Trump and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Republican lawmakers reintroduce bill to ban TikTok on federal devices MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) White House announcement of the new version of the RAISE Act, a bill that aims to lower legal immigration to the U.S. by more than 40 percent by turning away non-English speakers and low-skilled or unskilled immigrants, flies in the face of American ideals and is simply bad policy.

The bill itself is problematic first because it awards points for “English-language ability,” which will discriminate against millions of hard-working and well-meaning individuals from non-English speaking countries. This preference reflects the broader demographic goals implicit in the Trump administration’s other policies, such as the wall on the Mexican border and Muslim ban.

Second, the bill makes no economic sense. The Bipartisan Policy Center stated, “The RAISE Act’s goal of reducing legal immigration is a threat to the U.S. economy and would place additional strains on the Social Security system by reducing the size of the labor force.”

Later that day, White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller answered questions about the new RAISE Act from the Brady briefing room. At the start of a heated exchange, CNN’s Jim Acosta, a first-generation Cuban American, invoked “American tradition” in challenging the law, referencing the Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus,” that appears on the monument: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

In response, Miller stated, “The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of Liberty enlightening the world, it’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later is not part of the actual Statue of Liberty.” During the exchange with Acosta, Miller rhetorically asked what number of immigrants would meet the “Statue of Liberty poem’s law of the land.”

Miller’s dismissal of the reference to the Statue of Liberty in a policy discussion shows a narrow understanding of the framing of “American tradition.” That tradition includes more than just what is found in dusty law books, but also what is called meta-doctrine. Meta-doctrine is composed of the concepts and prescriptions that provide structure and limitations to specific legal doctrines. They form the spirit of the country and define our goals and how we see ourselves.  

As an example of meta-doctrine, note that the Declaration of Independence has no legal force or authority, but certainly guides how Americans view their rights and responsibilities to the country. Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” did not pass Congress, but stands as a creed around the country and world for those fighting for representation and accountability.

The dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were not incorporated into the Civil Rights Act, but they guided what that act meant to millions of Americans hoping be free at last. Likewise, “The New Colossus” is not a comprehensive immigration policy, but it encapsulates both the generosity Americans endeavor to show and the opportunity so badly sought by those who arrive on our shores.

Whether found in statute or not, America views itself as a nation of immigrants. This view has been held internationally for generations, launching countless journeys — including many by proud Arab Americans. The RAISE Act, and Miller’s discount of our collective understanding of ourselves, fundamentally undermines both our historical reality and the dreams of those who still wish to join us in their own pursuit of happiness.

Ryan J. Suto, J.D., is the government relations manager for the Arab American Institute, an organization that encourages the direct participation of Arab Americans in political and civic life.

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