Goodbye diversity, hello merit: Trump endorses RAISE Act immigration reform

Goodbye diversity, hello merit: Trump endorses RAISE Act immigration reform
Under an immigration reform proposal endorsed by President Donald Trump, the US would issue green cards on the basis of merit, favoring able-bodied English-speaking immigrants, rather than the current diversity lottery system.

US authorities issue about a million permanent residence permits, also known as “green cards,” every year. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) argue that this disadvantages working-class Americans, and have proposed the biggest overhaul of immigration policies since 1965.

On Wednesday, Trump stood with Cotton and Perdue in the White House and endorsed their “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act,” originally introduced in February.

The proposed reform is the biggest change to US immigration policies in 50 years, Trump said, and would “restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens” by protecting US workers from being displaced and helping ensure the newcomers will assimilate and succeed.

Cotton called the current system an “obsolete disaster” that puts downward pressure on “people who work with their hands or work on their feet.”

The proposal was based on best practices around the world, in particular the merits-based immigration systems of Canada and Australia, said Perdue. He called the proposal a “measured, rational approach” that will allow the US to “fix this broken system in a strategic way.”

Under the RAISE Act, the number of green cards issued would drop to 600,000 the first year and level off to 500,000 over the span of a decade, Cotton told NPR. The bill would also cut the number of refugee admissions in half, reduce the number of green cards issued to relatives of immigrants already in the US, and eliminate entirely the diversity visa lottery currently used to allocate permanent residence permits to applicants from around the world.

At the White House press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, senior adviser Stephen Miller told reporters that immigration reform was needed because the current system significantly depressed blue-collar wages, exacerbated income inequality, and displaced African-American and Latino workers, as well as immigrants who came earlier.

When CNN’s Jim Acosta reacted by bringing up the poem by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Miller said that poetry was not law of the land and accused Acosta of “cosmopolitan bias.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions endorsed the proposal on Wednesday afternoon.

“The RAISE Act would give us a more merit-based immigration system that admits the best and the brightest around the world while making it harder for people to come here illegally,” Sessions said in a statement. “The bill would end programs known to be rife with fraud and abuse and finally improve the vetting process, making our country ‒ and working-class wages ‒ much safer and stronger."

Critics, however, quickly denounced the proposal as racist.

“In the US, we don’t shut the door behind us,” Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) said on Twitter. “We must not go against our American values.”

“Gutting legal immigration [is] nothing more than a partisan ploy appealing to the racist [and] xenophobic instincts Trump encouraged during campaign,”tweeted Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is likewise opposed to proposal. “More immigrants are living in New York City today than at any other time in the last century. We're safer and more prosperous than ever,” he tweeted.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also came out against the proposed reform, saying that it would negatively affect the state’s agriculture, tourism and service industries.

“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,” Graham said on Wednesday.