There may be no policy issue on which President Trump is more clearly defined than immigration.
Throughout the campaign, his hardline views on ending sanctuary cities, stopping illegal employment, building the border wall, rapidly deporting criminal aliens and pushing for Kate’s Law were brought up in nearly every speech.
The immigration issue has historically been politically advantageous for Democrats, as they have staked out a position which the media describes as more “compassionate.” Democrats have used immigration as a wedge issue in general election campaigns with some success, particularly in states with large Hispanic populations.
Fears about the political cost of the immigration issue led many Republicans to unsuccessfully support comprehensive immigration reform several years ago, resulting in an ill-fated bill which passed the Senate, but died in the House in 2014.
Wednesday’s policy announcement from Mr. Trump, highlighting his support of the RAISE Act, legislation authored by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, gives the bill far more attention and momentum than it would have otherwise received. The RAISE Act aims to transition to a merit-based system in determining who gets into the country, not unlike Canada and Australia.
A fact sheet released by the White House offered an amazing statistic: “Only one of every 15 immigrants to the U.S. comes here because of their skills.”
Wouldn’t it make more sense for America to be more selective about which legal immigrants we allow into our country?
Mr. Trump’s view, which has been advanced by radio host Laura Ingraham for many years, is that low-skilled immigrants depress the wages of Americans.
We can all sympathize with the low-skilled person from Central America who wants to come to the U.S. in search of a better life, with the dream of eventually bringing their family here. But there must be a limit and our country must put its economy and own workers first.
Legal immigration should be mutually beneficial. We should return our focus to attracting skilled workers, those who can speak English and will contribute to the economy without needing government benefits.
The White House says that 50 percent of all immigrant households receive welfare benefits, compared to 30 percent of native-born Americans. That is far too high to justify keeping the current legal immigration system in place.
Mr. Cotton and Mr. Perdue’s bill would change the current permanent employment-visa system into a skills-based system, rewarding applicants with English-language ability, previous achievements, entrepreneurial potential and a good-paying job offer in hand.
This bill recognizes the importance of families, by prioritizing nuclear family members, including spouses and minor children, but ends the practice of giving preference to extended family members and adult children. Citizens needing to care for elderly parents can apply for and receive temporary visas for them.
This proposal will be controversial in some parts of the country.
Democrats will surely oppose any change to the current broken legal immigration system that would limit the influx of low-skilled workers, as they see those immigrants as future Democratic voters when and if an amnesty program passes.
The legislative pathway for this bill is uncertain, as it would likely require 60 votes in the Senate and there are only 52 Republican senators.
But if Democrats want to defend a broken immigration system that attracts 1 million legal immigrants annually, mostly low-skilled workers who would be more likely to need government assistance, they can choose to do that. The Trump administration will make the case that a more sensible legal immigration system would be better for American workers, the American economy and American taxpayers.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” is produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on the web at MackOnPolitics.com.
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