On Wednesday, Donald Trump threw his support behind the RAISE Act, a bill that would effectively cut overall immigration rates in half by curbing legal immigration. The bill, which was proposed by Republican Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton, would create what Trump described as a "merit-based" immigration system, prioritizing high-skilled immigrants who speak English and can financially provide for their families. As journalist Felix Salmon pointed out on Twitter, however, this system — far from protecting American workers — would turn the U.S. into a "country club" privileging the elite.
Salmon pointed out that there is a significant amount of demand for immigrants in industries like agriculture, implying that the RAISE Act would negatively impact the American economy. He also noted that the proposed bill would turn the U.S. "into some kind of elite country club, where we’re only happy to admit people who cognitively resemble our own elites."
This is an extremely important point. By establishing a "merit-based" system, the RAISE Act and its backers insinuate that some immigrants are somehow more worthy of entering the U.S. based on their skill levels and backgrounds. The RAISE Act's goal of curbing legal immigration based on skill level is not, ultimately, a measure to protect American workers. Instead, it creates an elitist benchmark that immigrants must meet.
Immigrants who perform low-skilled labor should not be relegated into a different category in this way, and a person's value does not lie solely in the work that they do. But even from Trump's perspective, the RAISE Act makes no sense; low-skilled labor often performed by immigrants is critical to the growth and stability of the American economy, which Trump claims to want. Plus, as Salmon subsequently pointed out, a low-skilled immigrant can quickly gain skills if they are given the opportunity.
Nonetheless, it is necessary to emphasize that it should not matter if immigrants are highly skilled in the fields the Trump administration prioritizes. Immigrants come to the U.S. for a variety of reasons, and to only grant entry to those whose skills are considered necessary is both dehumanizing and unfair. The RAISE Act's emphasis on merit attempts to create a correlation between an immigrant's skills and their right to enter the U.S., when in reality, no such correlation should be drawn.
If the Trump administration really wants to prioritize the needs of American workers, they need to realize that many of those workers are immigrants, and they are no less deserving of worker protections. There is little doubt that curbing legal immigration in this way would have a negative impact on the economy. However, it is also a racist, xenophobic tactic that would limit diversity in this country, and that is not the immigration reform solution that the U.S. needs or should be pursuing.