WASHINGTON – President Trump on Wednesday endorsed a new bill in the Senate aimed at slashing legal immigration levels over a decade, a goal Trump endorsed on the campaign trail that would represent a profound change to U.S. immigration policies that have been in place for half a century.
Trump appeared with Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia at the White House to unveil a modified version of a bill the senators first introduced in April to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards per year granting foreigners permanent legal residence in the United States.
The outlines of the legislation reflect the aims Trump touted on the campaign trail, when he argued that the rapid growth of immigration over the past half century had harmed job opportunities for American workers and led to risks to national security. Trump had met twice previously at the White House with Cotton and Perdue to discuss the details of their legislation, which is titled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act.
"This would be the most significant reform to the immigration system in half a century," said Trump, flanked by the senators in the Roosevelt Room. "It is a historic and very vital proposal."
The legislation would mark a major shift in U.S immigration laws, which over the past half century have permitted a growing number of immigrants to come to the country to work or join relatives. To achieve the reductions, Cotton and Perdue are taking aim at green cards for extended family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, limiting such avenues for grown children, grandparents and siblings. Minor children and spouses would still be allowed to apply for green cards.
The senators also propose to end a visa diversity lottery that has awarded 50,000 green cards a year, mostly to areas in the world that traditionally do not have as many immigrants to the United States, including Africa. Aides to Cotton said the bill will not include provisions to limit low-skilled temporary workers. It is expected to cap refugee levels at 50,000 per year.
Under the bill, the new immigration system would award points to green card applicants based on such factors as English ability, education levels and job skills. The senators said the proposal is modeled after immigration programs in Canada and Australia.
Trump called the changes necessary to protect American workers, including racial minorities, from rising competition for lower-paid jobs.
"Among those who have been hit hardest in recent years are immigrants and minority workers competing for jobs against brand new arrivals," Trump said. "It has not been fair to our people, our citizens and our workers."
But the bill's prospects are dim in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and would have difficulty getting 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. The legislation is expected to face fierce resistance from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups and opposition from business leaders and some moderate Republicans in states with large immigrant populations. Opponents of slashing immigration levels said immigrants help boost the economy and that studies have shown they commit crimes at lower levels than do native-born Americans.