The president trumpeted support Wednesday for a bill that would drastically cut legal immigration – and could actually hurt the economy instead of helping it.
Alongside President Trump, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia pitched their White House-backed proposal as a way to boost American jobs.
The slightly reworked bill, originally introduced in February and known as the RAISE Act (S 354), would change 1960s-era immigration laws to reduce the number of legal immigrants coming to the U.S. by 50 percent over the next 10 years.
A points-based system would give priority to skilled immigrant workers, English-speakers and higher paid workers, said Senior White House Adviser Stephen Miller.
The cuts would come from reducing the number of family-sponsored immigrants allowed into the United States every year and eliminating the Diversity Visa Program. The bill also would limit refugee acceptance to 50,000 people annually and leave it up to the president to determine the number of asylum seekers that should be admitted to the United States ever year.
“This is what President Trump campaigned on,” Miller said while defending the policy during an afternoon press briefing that eventually turned combative.
But Cotton, Perdue and the president are backing a bill based on “a number of false premises,” warned Cato Institute immigration expert David Bier, and the U.S. economy needs more people—not fewer—to keep growing.
Legal immigrants are coming into the country at historic lows, Bier said. Legal immigrants coming into the U.S. at a rate 30 percent lower than ever before when the current population is taken into account, he said and that combined with Baby Boomers retiring droves and a historically low birthrate among Americans are setting the country up for a serious worker shortage “and I’m not sure if the senators are aware that they’re being misled by these numbers.”
Increasing the labor force — the number of people who are working in and contributing to the economy, “that’s a good thing,” Bier said.
The proposal does get one thing right, Bier said: establishing a skills-based legal immigration system.
“We allow far more family-based rather than skill- and employment-based immigration,” he said. “Canada and Australia are much better at that, and the Trump Administration has been saying it wants to use those countries as a model. But both of these countries allow far more immigrants in than the United States does,” he said. “This bill doesn’t do that, it just eliminates opportunities. It’s not really doing what other countries have done to make their economies more competitive.”
And restricting the number of people that can enter the American labor force? “That’s just not a Conservative position,” Bier said.