President Donald Trump’s gesture for bipartisan immigration reform seemed to call for replacing the current legal immigration system that prioritizes family reunification with an economic merit-based system.
“Those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” @POTUS says.
If that’s the direction, then some pro-enforcement groups seem willing to listen.
“Right now, just 16 percent of illegal immigrants came because they were sponsored by an employer,” Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Signal. “Ample research shows that immigrants admitted for employment are more likely to be self-sufficient, an economic plus, and on balance less of a fiscal burden.”
Critics of the focus on family reunification say it has led to chain migration.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., last month introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, which would rebalance the legal immigration system toward employment-based visas and immediate family households, rather than extended family members.
The sponsors project that if enacted, the legislation would lower overall immigration to 637,960 people per year, and to 530,958 immigrants in the second year. That’s down from 1.05 million immigrants admitted in 2015.
During his address to a joint session of Congress, Trump noted that Canada and Australia are among countries with a merit-based immigration system.
“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” Trump said. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.”
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who dismissed the view that the president was making a bipartisan appeal for reform, said what Trump spoke about would limit Hispanics coming to the United States.
“[Trump] envisions an immigration system where quotas for Ph.D.s are set in Washington and the multitude of immigrants who built this country and who keep it flourishing would not be welcome,” Gutiérrez said in a statement. “The Latino community won’t forget and won’t let that happen. And the millions of allies we have who support immigration as a fundamental and integral aspect of America’s greatness will not forget either.”
Vaughan said that numbers of immigrants admitted to the U.S. are an issue even in a merit-based system.
“We have to be careful with the numbers and we don’t want American workers to be displaced,” she said.
A merit-based green card system would differ from a guest worker program because it would be more stringent for both the employer and the immigrant in proving they have skills and can contribute to the economy, Vaughan said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president is not compromising his principles.
“One of the network anchors said, if anyone can get a deal, it would be [Trump]. Obviously, he was pleased with that, because it’s true,” Spicer said. “He recognizes that a comprehensive solution has alluded our nation for a long time and it’s a big problem. If he can get it consistent with his principles, he will.”
In response to a later question, Spicer said: “I think he was making it clear that the results of our immigration system don’t yield one that reflects a merit-based one.”
Congress broadened the merit-based system in 1990, but left the family reunification-based system in place. A merit-based system should replace the family-based system in order to be more effective, Vaughan said.
If illegal immigrants could prove they have a particular skill set, this might open the door for a limited, economic-based amnesty, or legalized status for illegal immigrants, Vaughan said. However, this would be an economic-based granting of legal status to those who can be self-sufficient.
“Democrats might be on board if they saw a chance to get something in return, like amnesty,” Vaughan said. “It may be reasonable to look at, but it would require legislation.”
The chief focus is on legal immigration, though, and tackling the problem of chain migration, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“It would be about families and children, instead of siblings, which brings the biggest pressure, because those siblings bring spouses, who bring in-laws,” Mehlman told The Daily Signal. “The point is to have an objective assessment for letting people enter the country, who will complement, not compete with, our workforce.”
Mehlman noted the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in the 1990s that called for limits on immediate nuclear family and employment-based immigration. The commission was chaired by former Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-Texas, and was endorsed by then-President Bill Clinton.