Graham opposes measure to cut legal immigration

Graham opposes measure to cut legal immigration
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE (R-S.C.) is against a merit-based immigration bill unveiled earlier Wednesday by President Trump and Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Five things to know about Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Graham, who last month proposed a renewed version of the DREAM Act alongside Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-Ill.), warned Cotton and Perdue's bill could hurt the agriculture and tourism industries.

“I've always supported merit-based immigration. I think we should always want to attract the best and brightest to the United States," Graham said in a statement.

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“Unfortunately, the other part of this proposal would reduce legal immigration by half, including many immigrants who work legally in our agriculture, tourism and service industries.”

The Perdue-Cotton Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, would halve the number of green cards given to foreigners and prioritize skilled immigration over family reunification.

That would be a drastic change for the U.S. immigration system, which currently prioritizes immediate family members and adult children of permanent residents and citizens.

Reducing the number of low-skilled immigrants allowed in the country would diminish the workforce available for industries that depend on those immigrants, Graham warned.

“South Carolina’s number one industry is agriculture, and tourism is number two. If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant workforce," he added.

Proponents of measures like the RAISE Act say that reducing the low-skilled immigrant workforce would raise wages for American workers, incentivizing them to take on more low-skill jobs.

But Graham argued Wednesday the measure would only hurt such industries, leaving positions unfilled. 

Creating a more restrictive immigration system would also generate more illegal immigration, he said, by forcing companies to hire undocumented immigrants.

"After dealing with this issue for more than a decade, I know that when you restrict legal labor to employers it incentivizes cheating," Graham said.

Graham has long been a proponent of bipartisan immigration reform. He was part of the Senate “Gang of Eight” that passed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, though that measure was never voted on in the House of Representatives.

Most recently, Graham teamed up with Durbin to propose a new version of the DREAM Act in July — a bill that's been proposed several times since 2001. It would protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation.