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Aug 05 2017
by Katherine Smith

The RAISE Act: Trump And the GOP's War on Legal Immigration

By Katherine Smith - Aug 05 2017
One of President Trump’s key campaign issues — immigration — is back in the spotlight, following a White House press conference with Senators David Perdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), which unveiled the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act on Wednesday morning. Heralded as a minor fix to a much larger problem, the bill would establish a merit-based system, similar to those used in Canada and Australia, in the hopes of reducing legal immigration by 50 percent. Applicants for employment visas would be evaluated using a point system that would take into account factors such as English fluency, education and entrepreneurial tendencies to determine their risk of drawing welfare benefits. In addition to limiting eligible applicants to highly skilled workers, the preference for U.S. residents’ extended family members and adult children would be eliminated. Senators Perdue and Cotton argued that by limiting the number of green cards issued to people wishing to reunite with their families, there will be less of a drain on federal programs and the U.S. economy. However, these findings are disputed by policy analysts.

Bipartisan push back

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights advocacy organizations have vehemently opposed the change, which also incorporated a cap on the number of refugees as well as the elimination of the diversity lottery. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled the bill as “a stealth attack on our immigration system" which “reflect[s] the shameful agenda of nativists and white nationalists who fear the growing diversity of our country.” Numerous Senators on both sides of the aisle have also taken to Twitter to voice their concerns:

Industries such as agriculture and construction that rely on unskilled workers would take a serious hit due to the lack of U.S. workers willing to fill those roles. And although the proposal is intended to increase the number of skilled foreign workers in the U.S., it may actually do more harm than good. By ignoring the overlap between merit- and family-driven immigration, the highly-skilled workers that the U.S. is hoping to attract may choose to find employment elsewhere.

Higher education isn't immune

First generation Americans account for 10 percent of undergraduates at U.S. colleges and universities, according to a 2016 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report. Within this group, the children of immigrants with a Bachelor's degree or higher — the exact group the RAISE Act is trying to limit — are “achieving graduate degrees and occupying top-tier occupations at higher rates than children of native-born Americans.” Also, students are also much more likely to pursue degrees in STEM fields.

Since half of early-stage research occurs in U.S. universities, many of these students play important roles in developing groundbreaking technologies that benefit the public and other college students. The National Science Foundation reports that 41 percent of foreign-born, U.S-employed STEM doctorate recipients were working on research and development in their fields a year after graduation. Once the period of time these students are legally allowed to remain in the country after graduating expires, they face a difficult decision: Return home or find work elsewhere. Students who come from countries that are economically or politically unstable may wish to stay in the United States but are deterred by the complex visa system and end up pursuing post-doctoral work someplace like Canada — something which could “decimate academia.”

Down the road

A reduction in the size of the legal immigrant population will make it harder for industries to close labor shortages. For example, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "by 2018 there will be more than 230,000 advanced degree STEM jobs that will not be filled even if every new American STEM grad finds a job." Legal immigrants can fill these roles which will stimulate the economy and promote innovation.

Additionally, as the native-born population ages, young adults are being forced to take on more and more roles to sustain economic growth and support social programs like Social Security. The RAISE Act would place a bigger burden on college students because it decreases the size of the contributor pool. Slashing legal immigration rates will place a huge strain on Social Security and Medicare, which would also make it more likely that current college students will have less of a safety net to rely on when it is time to retire.

The bottom line? Legal immigration is crucial for higher education, the economy and future generations. Preventing highly-skilled individuals from entering the U.S. is harming, not helping, the country.

Lead Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Katherine Smith - Barnard College

Katie is a freshman at Barnard and plans on majoring in political science. She was (and still is) an avid debater and never backs down from an argument, much to her parents dismay. One of the first things she did after getting her college email address was access all of the databases through Columbia since JSTOR is her form of Netflix. You can find somewhat sporadically posted content on her Instagram @katiesnappy or follow her scholarly pursuits through her nonprofit, Open Access Debate.

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