On Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump debuted the RAISE Act (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act), an immigration bill that would overturn U.S. policies and could result in a 50 percent reduction of legal immigration into the country.
If passed, the bill could be devastating for legal immigrants trying to enter the country. The proposal, which the president announced at the White House with Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perue of Georgia, would implement a points-based system for awarding green cards. The president also said it would end "chain migration," referring to the current immigration system's preference for uniting family members.
However, Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, says the likelihood that the legislation will actually pass is unlikely.
"This radical approach that represents the wishlist for the nativists that are supporting this bill is not a serious effort that's going to get strong support," he says. "This is not a purely partisan effort because the bill is going to get strong opposition from many prominent Republicans. So I don't think this bill is the representation of what the Republican party itself believes on immigration, this bill is the brainchild of a small but vocal minority that is focused on radically reducing immigration to this country."
About one million immigrants receive green cards per year. Trump said foreign applicants would receive a higher score if they speak English, can financially support themselves, and have skills that can contribute to the economy.
The legislation would also cap the number of accepted refugees at 50,000, half of the Obama administration's 2017 target, and end the State Department's Diversity visa lottery, which had been assigned 50,000 visas for the 2018 fiscal year.
Jawetz says the bill's statutory cap on refugee resettlement would be particularly devastating. Since 1980, when the U.S. first began setting presidential determinations for refugee admissions, the cap has never been as low as 50,000 people. "So to codify that into law would dramatically lock us out of the global stage and tell our allies around the world that the United States is no longer going to play a meaningful role in helping alleviate the burden of the global refugee challenge," he explains.
Luckily, however, the bill's prospects appear dim in the Senate. While Republicans do hold a narrow majority, they would need 60 votes to prevent a filibuster, including votes from at least eight Democrats or independents to start debate on the legislation.
Additionally, the legislation is expected to face opposition from Democrats and immigrants rights groups, as well as from business leaders and some moderate Republicans in states with sizable immigrant populations.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a supporter of the Bush and Obama immigration reform efforts, has already come out against the RAISE bill. "I fear this proposal will not only hurt our agriculture, tourism and service economy in South Carolina, it incentivizes more illegal immigration as positions go unfilled," he said in a statement.
Trump's push for the bill marks a dramatic shift from his predecessors. George W. Bush tried to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, while Obama passed a similar effort in 2013 with support from both parties.
The measure mimics Trump's 2016 campaign rhetoric, when he claimed legal immigration into the country took job opportunities away from American citizens and jeopardized national security.
"Immigrants are critically important to this country because in the next couple of decades, as more baby boomers retire, the only way in which we are going to have a net growth in the working age population is through immigrants and their children," Jawetz counters. "We would be losing working age people, we'd be losing people who are contributing to our social safety net, and it would jeopardize our ability to keep our commitment to older Americans who are retiring now."
"This bill is supported by people who wish to dramatically reduce legal immigration into this country and so I think in that sense it is the definition of a nativist proposal," he says.