Peter Baker, New York Times, August 2, 2017
President Trump embraced a proposal on Wednesday to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.
“This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens,” Mr. Trump said at a White House event alongside two Republican senators sponsoring the bill. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”
The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, would institute a merit-based system to determine who is admitted to the country and granted legal residency green cards, favoring applicants based on skills, education and language ability rather than relations with people already here.
More than one million people are granted legal residency each year, and the proposal would reduce that by 41 percent in its first year and 50 percent by its 10th year, according to projections cited by its sponsors. The reductions would come largely from those brought in through family connections. The number of immigrants granted legal residency on the basis of job skills, about 140,000, would remain roughly the same.
Under the current system, most legal immigrants are admitted to the United States based on family ties. American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for an unrestricted number of visas, while siblings and adult children are given preferences for a limited number of visas available to them. Legal permanent residents holding green cards can also sponsor spouses and children.
In 2014, 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members. Just 15 percent entered through employment-based preferences.
The legislation would award points based on education, ability to speak English, high-paying job offers, age, record of achievement and entrepreneurial initiative. But while it would still allow spouses and minor children of Americans and legal residents to come in, it would eliminate preferences for other relatives, like siblings and adult children. The bill would create a renewable temporary visa for older-adult parents who come for caretaking purposes.
The legislation would limit refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 a year and eliminate a diversity visa lottery that the sponsors said does not promote diversity.
The projections cited by the sponsors said legal immigration would decrease to 637,960 after a year and to 539,958 after a decade.
The plan endorsed by Mr. Trump generated a fiery exchange at the White House briefing when Stephen Miller, the president’s policy adviser and a longtime advocate of immigration limits, defended the proposal. Pressed for statistics to back up claims that immigration was costing Americans jobs, he cited several studies that have been debated by experts.
“But let’s also use common sense here, folks,” Mr. Miller said. “At the end of the day, why do special interests want to bring in more low-skill workers?”
He rejected the argument that immigration policy should also be based on compassion. “Maybe it’s time we had compassion for American workers,” he said.
When a reporter read him some of the words from the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — Mr. Miller dismissed them. “The poem that you’re referring to was added later,” he said. “It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”
He noted that in 1970, the United States allowed in only a third as many legal immigrants as it now does: “Was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land?”