On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump unveiled the RAISE Act, an immigration bill aimed at reducing legal immigration and giving priority to English-speaking applicants. The new Republican bill, co-authored by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Georgia Senator David Perdue, could ultimately result in a 50 percent reduction in legal immigration, according to the Washington Post, from roughly one million new green card holders per year to roughly 500,000 per year.
In short, the RAISE Act (RAISE stands for "Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment") would be a major overhaul of America's system for immigration, transitioning to a more strident screening process that would grant favoritism to English speakers with the ability to support themselves financially.
It would also, according to Trump, prohibit recently arrived legal immigrants ― green card holders, in other words ― from receiving welfare. In other words, it would bar them from receiving a crucial underpinning of the social safety net, despite them being legal immigrants. Trump announced his support for the RAISE Act at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, alongside Cotton and Perdue, throwing his weight behind what he called a "merit-based" system.
This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy. The RAISE Act prevents new immigrants and new migrants from collecting welfare, and protects U.S. workers from being displaced. And that's a very big thing. They're not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That's not going to happen under the RAISE Act, they can't do that.
As Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star noted on Twitter immediately following the announcement, Trump's embrace of the RAISE Act somewhat contradicts a statement he made about immigration policy just two months ago. Asked whether he was looking to curb legal immigration rather than simply illegal immigration, Trump insisted he wanted people to immigrate legally, albeit under a "merit-based" system.
There's an obvious tension in his changing stances ― on the one hand saying he wants people to immigrate legally, on the other backing a plan to slash the annual number of legal immigrants by half. It's not unlike his previous pledges and promises regarding health care, about covering "everyone" and not cutting Medicaid, which fell by the wayside when it came time for the Republican-led Congress to actually write a bill.
Some critics of the bill and of Trump's support for it have condemned it as both racist and classist, and it's not that hard to see why. Giving preference to English-speaking applicants would effectively, in all likelihood, be an across-the-board leg-up for people coming from countries where English is already widely spoken ― in other words, countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which are predominantly white and have strongly Western economies.
The emphasis on favoring those who can "financially support themselves" would also likely mean that potential applicants from underdeveloped countries with poor economies would be, on average, at a disadvantage. In other words, the metrics by which America would judge immigration applicants would at the start favor richer, whiter people.
The bill would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery, a system approved by Congress in 1990 wherein 50,000 visas are annually offered to people hailing from countries with historically low rates of U.S. immigration. Abolishing this program is in keeping with the bill's emphasis on favoring applicants of relative privilege. The lottery is a route for people of varied backgrounds, and often limited means, to get green cards.
For what it's worth, however, the bill is not expected to have much chance in the Senate. Unlike the recent Senate GOP health care bill, which the Republicans attempted to pass under the process of budget reconciliation ― thus only requiring 50 votes for passage ― the RAISE Act would require 60 votes to thwart a Democratic filibuster. The Republicans only control 52 seats in the Senate, meaning eight Democrats or independents would have to break ranks for it to be passed.
In recent days, Trump has hammered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter, insisting that he should abolish the filibuster to enable the GOP to more easily pass its legislative agenda. McConnell, for his part, insists he doesn't have the votes to successfully change the filibuster rule.