White House Backs Senate Bill To Cut Legal Immigration, Move To Merit-Based System

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The White House is working with leading Republican senators to draft a bill that would slash annual legal immigration levels by half, part of a broader reform that would move the U.S. immigration system from family chain migration to a merit-based approach.

President Donald Trump plans to back a bill from GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that would cut the number of legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. each year from about 1 million to 500,000 over the next decade .

The proposal, which is set to be introduced later this summer, has been closely coordinated with senior Trump advisors Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, reports Politico. Miller and Bannon are known for their hawkish positions on illegal immigration and also for advocating a reduction in legal immigrants.

White House officials told Politico the upcoming bill is a revised and expanded version of the RAISE Act, which Cotton and Perdue introduced in February and which Trump touted at the time. The RAISE Act eliminates the visa lottery program, caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year and, perhaps most importantly to immigration hawks, ends so-called chain migration.

Current law allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their parents, siblings and married adult children for immigrant visas. Under the Cotton-Perdue proposal, only spouses and minor children could be sponsored.

The legislation spearheads a broader immigration reform movement within the GOP to implement a merit-based immigration system — something closer to the Canadian or Australian approach — that limits acceptance of poor and low-skilled immigrants. Cotton, who has taken up the mantle as the Senate’s leading immigration hawk, argues that mass immigration undercuts wages for native-born workers and reduces economic opportunity for poor and working-class natives.

“Sen. Cotton knows that being more deliberate about who we let into our country will raise working-class wages, which is why an overwhelming majority of Americans support it,” Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt told Politico. “He and Sen. Perdue are working with President Trump to fix our immigration system so that instead of undercutting American workers, it will support them and their livelihoods.”

Even though the proposal has White House backing, it likely faces an uphill climb in Congress. The GOP will have difficulty taking up a major immigration reform bill while also dealing with other priorities, including passing Obamacare repeal, tax reform and an infrastructure package.

In addition to the crowded legislative agenda, resistance from the GOP’s immigration doves in the Senate could also sidetrack the the bill. Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona dismissed the RAISE Act when it was introduced, exposing deep intra-party divisions on the issue of limiting legal immigration.

“Over the next 20 years, one thing I can say for certain is America is getting older and the number of workers coming up in the system is not where it has been in the past,” Graham said in February. “We’re going to need to replenish our workforce.”

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