Eliana Johnson and Josh Dawsey, Politico, July 12, 2017
Donald Trump and his aides are quietly working with two conservative senators to dramatically scale back legal immigration — a move that would mark a fulfillment of one of the president’s biggest campaign promises.
Trump plans to get behind a bill being introduced later this summer by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that, if signed into law, would, by 2027, slash in half the number of legal immigrants entering the country each year, according to four people familiar with the conversations. Currently, about 1 million legal immigrants enter the country annually; that number would fall to 500,000 over the next decade.
The senators have been working closely with Stephen Miller, a senior White House official known for his hawkish stance on immigration. The issue is also a central priority for Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who has several promises to limit immigration scribbled on the walls of his office.
Though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have at least paid lip service to the need to crack down on illegal immigration, reducing legal immigration is more controversial, even among Republicans.
The reintroduction of the bill is likely to mark the beginning of an important battle within the GOP between immigration hawks, now led by Cotton, who will have the backing of the White House, and dovish lawmakers such as Arizona’s John McCain and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham.
The last time Republicans seriously attempted to curb legal immigration was over two decades ago, in 1996, when a Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich pressured President Bill Clinton to include a provision that slashed legal immigration in a broader immigration reform package. It was ultimately dropped from the bill, though, after Clinton faced opposition from some of the country’s top business leaders.
The Cotton-Perdue legislation would also mark a broader shift away from the current immigration system, which favors those with family currently in the U.S., toward a merit-based approach. It would, for example, increase the number of green cards — which allow for permanent residency in the U.S. — that are granted on the basis of merit to foreigners in a series of categories including outstanding professors and researchers, those holding advanced degrees, and those with extraordinary ability in a particular field.
Those admitted to the U.S. on the basis of merit have accounted for less than 10 percent of all legal immigrants over the past 15 years, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration Yearbook, and Trump pledged as a presidential candidate to shift the U.S. to a merit-based immigration system.
Miller is also working with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put new limits on sanctuary cities and has convened meetings at the White House on limiting refugees.
A senior White House official described the moves as part of a broader reorganization of the immigration system. The official said the White House particularly wanted to target welfare programs and limit citizenship and migration to those who pay taxes and earn higher wages.
A second White House official said the push is real, “but it’s a difficult one in the current Congress, and we know that.”