Here’s Where The 2016 Candidates Stand On Legal Immigration

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The United States issues about a million green cards to legal immigrants every year, granting them permanent legal residence and the ability to compete for American jobs, and welcomes about 700,000 guest workers. The Census Bureau estimates nearly one in five U.S. residents will be foreign-born by 2060 — the largest share of total population ever recorded in American history.

Here’s what the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders would do with that exploding population and the guest worker programs businesses use to import foreign workers.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — Democratic candidate

Clinton wants to make it easier for legal and illegal immigrants to become citizens and to access government healthcare, and thinks the legal immigration system should focus on promoting family unity rather than admitting immigrants of a certain skill-level. She’s supported both high-skilled and low-skilled temporary visa programs that allow businesses to import foreign workers.

“American needs comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” she says in a header on the immigration platform she lays out on her website.

As senator, she supported a 2007 comprehensive immigration bill that would have allowed legal immigrants to bring in family members quickly and without limit, and she pushed an amendment to the bill that would give legal immigrants immediate access to government health insurance.

She has also supported the H-1B visa program, which companies like Disney have used to displace American workers, even as businesses say they need the foreign workers because of a shortage of American workers. And the 2007 bill would have created a new temporary work visa for low-skilled workers aimed at allowing businesses to hire legal and illegal immigrants and give them a path to citizenship.

Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders — Democratic candidate

Sanders’ legal immigration platform is similar to Hillary Clinton’s, but with a populist twist. He too supports a family-based rather than merit-based system that makes it easier for legal immigrants to bring in family members who are also eligible to work and apply for legal permanent residence. And he also wants all immigrants to have immediate access to government healthcare and an easier path to citizenship.

“Our immigration policy will put the sanctity of families at the forefront and will be grounded in civil, human, and labor rights,” Sanders says on his website.

But he differs from Hillary on guest worker visas, actively against or skeptical of the programs he believes exploit immigrant workers and undercut American jobs and wages. Rather than allow businesses to hire low or high skilled workers temporarily on a guest visa that often puts the immigrant at the mercy of the employer, Sanders advocates for giving the immigrants more legal rights and opportunity. He’d also force businesses to pay more, not less, if they want to import foreign workers to deal with a labor shortage.

Businessman Donald Trump — Republican candidate

Trump has taken the hardest stance on both legal and illegal immigration of the candidates, although he’s flip-flopped in debates and in interviews regarding some of his positions. His plan focuses on the needs of American workers, rather than high-skilled immigration or family reunification, in line with the proposals of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner.

The U.S. currently issues about one million green cards each year, and about 700,000 guest worker permits, something Trump’s platform says “holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans … to earn a middle class wage.”

Trump would put the green card program on hold temporarily, barring any new immigrants from obtaining green cards, and effectively dismantle the H-1B visa program by raising the minimum wage businesses must pay H-1B guest workers and requiring them to hire American workers first when possible.

Trump would also put a temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants to the United States, as part of his plan to “stop giving legal immigrant visas to people bent on causing us harm.”

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — Republican candidate

Cruz has campaigned consistently on denying “amnesty” to illegal immigrants, and his online platform focuses almost solely on securing the border and dealing with illegal immigrants. But in his in-depth plan he advocates for an expanded legal immigration system based on merit rather than family ties.

Cruz was highly critical of the 2013 comprehensive immigration package dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” in terms of how it addressed illegal immigration. But he offered amendments to build significantly on the bill’s expansion of the legal immigration system, such as a massive increase of H-1B visas. He has referred to himself as the Senate’s biggest advocate for legal immigration.

Since then, however, he has revised his position on legal immigration and the H-1B visa program, stating now in his plan that immigration levels should not be expanded until the historic low of American workforce participation improves. He would also suspend the H-1B program for 180 days to address “abuses” of the program, and add reforms such as a requirement for companies to produce sworn affidavits describing their efforts to hire American workers first.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich — Republican candidate

Kasich’s position on legal immigration is more akin to Hillary and Bernie than the other Republicans in the race, in that he emphasized welcoming immigrants and focusing on uniting families. He prides himself on what he calls a pragmatic approach to implementing immigration policies, and casts himself as the “humane” alternative on immigration to candidates like Trump and Cruz.

His campaign website does not list immigration among his top issues, opting to highlight issues such as “electability” and “defending the Second Amendment.”

He’s signaled support, however, for both low and high skilled guest worker visa programs, and voted to dramatically increase the size of the H-1B visa program when he represented Ohio in the House. “Our program is too narrow now,” Kasich said in a Fox News primary debate, referring to the guest worker programs that allow about 700,000 workers into the country each year.

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