How Trump’s legal immigration cuts could be a blessing to Dreamers


Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) recently introduced a revised version of the bill addressing legal immigration into the United States, the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act. It is supposed to spur economic growth and raise working Americans’ wages by giving priority to the best-skilled immigrants from around the world and reducing overall immigration by half.

Supporters include President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke.

{mosads}Nevertheless, it will not reach the president’s desk without support from influential Democratic congressmen, which will be difficult to get and won’t be free.

According to Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the RAISE Act “and the bear hug by the Bannon/Kelly/Trump White House — betrays the deep animosity towards legal immigration that has become the central, unifying tenet of the Republican Party.”

Gutiérrez has his own problems getting legislation through Congress. He recently introduced the American Hope Act, H.R. 3591, the latest version of the DREAM Act, which would provide lawful status for undocumented aliens who were brought here as children.

Efforts have been made to get a DREAM Act through Congress since 2001. No one has succeeded, and Gutierrez won’t either unless he can get Republican support for his bill.

Can these political opponents work together?

Gutiérrez said in a press release for the American Hope Act that, “We are not picking good immigrants versus bad immigrants or deserving versus undeserving.” 

And the RAISE Act would base non-family-based immigration decisions on a merit point system.

Nevertheless, if Gutiérrez is willing to compromise on the number of immigrants who will get lawful status, he should be able to negotiate a mutual support agreement with the sponsors of the RAISE Act. His support would be just as valuable to them as theirs would be to him.

In addition to opposition from the Democrats, the RAISE Act is going to be opposed by many Republicans. The radical changes it would make in family and employment-based immigration would hurt Republican constituents too.

Key sections of the RAISE Act.

Section 2 eliminates the Diversity Visa Program, which allocates 50,000 immigrant visas annually to a lottery for aliens in countries with low immigration rates.

Section 3 limits the annual number of refugee admissions to 50,000.

Section 4 limits family-based immigrant visas for the relatives of citizens and legal permanent residents to spouses and children under the age of 18 (eliminating adult children, parents and siblings of U.S. citizens).

Section 5 replaces the current employment-based immigration system with a points system similar to the ones used in Canada and Australia.

Suggestions for a compromise.

The main price for Gutiérrez’s support would be to establish a DREAM Act program that would be based on an appropriate merit-based point system.  

The number of undocumented aliens who might benefit from a DREAM Act can range from 2.5 to 3.3 million. It isn’t likely that an agreement will be reached if Gutiérrez insists on a number in that range.

Concessions have to be made to achieve an acceptable compromise, and allowing termination of the Diversity Visa Program would be a reasonable choice. An alternative would be to keep the program as is but distribute the visas on a merit point system instead of using a lottery.

The refugee provision is problematic, but the president has sole authority to determine the number of admissions and the current president supports the 50,000 cap. The Democrats will try to eliminate this cap or raise it if they can’t eliminate it, but this should not be a deal breaker if the other issues are worked out satisfactorily.    

The restrictions on family-based immigration, however, are another matter. They should be modified. Cotton and Purdue doomed their bill to failure with these provisions. They hurt constituents on both sides of the aisle.  

Moreover, they do not make any sense. What does national interest mean if the family-unification needs of citizens and legal permanent residents don’t count?  

Some advocates strongly opposes the point system because they think it fails to take into account the needs of U.S. businesses, but their concern is based on the point criterion in the current version of the RAISE Act, which has not been subjected to any hearings or markups yet. If the senators and Gutiérrez cannot work out a compromise that protects the needs of U.S. businesses, there will be plenty of time to make additional changes.

This isn’t just about moving these bills through Congress. According to recent Gallup polls, “Americans view Congress relatively poorly, with job approval ratings of the institution below 30% since October 2009.”

And the current Republican-controlled Congress is not turning this around. Reaching an agreement with the Democrats on an immigration reform bill that includes a DREAM Act legalization program would be a good place to start.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.

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

Tags Bob Goodlatte Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Tom Cotton
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video