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If the goal was to generate universal condemnation from economists and position themselves in opposition to the Statue of Liberty, then this week’s White House-led rollout of the RAISE Act was a home run.
The proposed legislation, from Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), would slash legal immigration by more than 50% by eliminating multiple family reunification categories (parents, siblings, adult children), eliminating diversity visas and reducing the admission of refugees. To “sell” the bill, the White House trotted Stephen Miller before the press corps — which tells you all you need to know about which wing of the White House from which this proposal emanated. It also puts the lie to Trump’s statement in May of this year that he had no plans to reduce legal immigration.
Below are five observations about the RAISE Act and its larger implications:
There is no economic argument for the RAISE Act.Economists were universal in condemning the ideas embedded, and faulty reasoning, behind the RAISE Act. In a New York Times front page story, “Fewer Immigrants Mean More Jobs? Not So, Economists Say,” Binyamin Appelbaum recaps the overwhelming academic and research consensus about immigration and economic growth, writing:
the prevailing view among economists is that immigration increases economic growth, improving the lives of the immigrants and the lives of the people who are already here….“The story that ‘when labor supplies go down, wages go up’ is a cartoon,’” said Michael A. Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development…It’s a political myth that the principal need is for high-skilled workers.” The piece notes that even George Borjas — “the Harvard immigration economist whose work is the only evidence that the administration has cited as justifying its proposals”– said “that there was no economic justification for reducing skilled immigration. ‘That is a political decision,’ he said. ‘That is not an economic decision.’
The bill isn’t about boosting workers’ skills, it’s about cutting legal immigration. As Elise Foley and Arthur Delaney write in HuffPost, “The Real Goal Of Trump’s ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration Plan May Just Be Fewer Immigrants,” noting:
Immigration and labor experts, however, are skeptical of such a system ― not because they oppose any consideration of would-be immigrants’ qualifications, but because they suspect what Trump and his allies really want is fewer immigrants overall. ‘I’m concerned that what the Trump administration intends with a merit-based program is not to add to the high-skilled; it’s to cut away everything around the high-skilled,’ said Tamar Jacoby, a Republican who supports immigration reform and president of ImmigrationWorks USA.’ While backers of the RAISE Act like to point out that they want to model their system on Canada and Australia, the HuffPostpiece points out, “If Trump truly wanted to mimic Canada or Australia, it would mean considerably more immigration, not less. If the U.S. accepted immigrants at the same rate as Canada does, relative to population size, the current yearly total of about 1 million would rise to about 2.5 million…At Australia’s rate, the total would increase to 2.9 million people.
The proposal isn’t just about cutting legal immigration, it’s about Making America White Again. A piece in the Sacramento Bee by editorial writer Foon Rhee, available online and in print this Sunday, puts the RAISE Act into a larger and disturbing context about its true motivations. Rhee writes: I
f there isn’t a huge problem of uneducated masses coming to America, taking blue-collar jobs away from native workers and taking advantage of welfare, what is this really about? Other statistics point to what could be the true goal. In 1960, there were 9.7 million immigrants in America, and three-fourths came from Europe. Now, the foreign-born population is a record 43 million-plus, and only 11 percent come from Europe. The number of immigrants has quadrupled and the ethnic mix has shifted significantly toward Asia and Latin America since 1965, when Congress replaced a quota system that favored immigrants from Europe.
This bill “would inflict massive suffering on enormous numbers of people”: Writing at the Volokh Conspiracy libertarian blog at the Washington Post, Ilya Somin writes:
This bill would inflict massive suffering on enormous numbers of people. Hundreds of thousands who could otherwise find greater freedom, happiness, and prosperity in the US will instead be consigned to poverty and oppression in the Third World, in many cases for the rest of their lives. For many of the excluded refugees, their fate could be severe persecution or even death, or at best prolonged misery in refugee camps … Refugees and potential immigrants would not be the only victims of Trump’s proposed policy. Many native-born Americans would suffer too. Increased immigration restrictions reduce their ability to interact with, work with, and hire immigrants … Immigrant workers, business owners, and entrepreneurs also make major contributions to the economy, which would be severely curtailed if Trump’s proposal is implemented.
If the RAISE Act was the law of the land, Americans would be worse off. As Upworthy helpfully points out in a listicle, anyone who likes things such as Google and Yahoo, Levi jeans and “God Bless America,” as well as Mila Kunis and Antonio Banderas, should oppose the RAISE Act. Most likely, none would have happened if this had been the law of the land.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
This bill is un-American and going nowhere. The response from across the political spectrum this week has made sure of that. What is un-American and imminent, however, is the threat to DACA. If Jeff Sessions gets his way, the lives of nearly 800,000 Dreamers will be turned upside down beginning in September if DACA is killed off and young people who are American in all but paperwork lose jobs and become vulnerable to deportation. Americans have stood up to the Muslim and refugee ban and have preserved healthcare coverage for millions. It’s time for Americans from across the political spectrum to rise up to defend Dreamers so that we make sure this assault on the values we hold dear doesn’t happen, either.