Two Republican senators introduced legislation Tuesday to cut legal immigration to the U.S. in half, saying the country needs to do a better job of selecting people based on what they can contribute to the U.S.
Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia said their bill would limit the relatives who can be sponsored for immigration to immediate family, eliminate the diversity visa lottery that doles out 50,000 green cards a year and set a 50,000 cap on green cards for refugees.
“The net effect will be to cut annual immigration in half from 1 million to 500,000 green cards per year,” Mr. Cotton said.
He introduced the bill as Congress prepared for another discussion about immigration reform.
Unlike the past eight years, when debate centered on legalizing illegal immigrants and drawing in more legal migrants, the conversation under President Trump is likely to focus more on imposing limits.
Mr. Cotton said a “generation-long surge in low-skilled immigration has hurt blue-collar wages.”
“It’s pulling the rug out from underneath them, and unless we reverse this trend, we’re going to create a near-permanent underclass for whom the American dream is always just out of reach,” he said.
The senator said he has talked with Mr. Trump about his ideas for months.
“He strongly supports the broad concept of moving our … legal immigration system towards a merit-based system,” he said.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA, two groups that advocate for reducing overall immigration into the U.S., complimented the senators’ bill Tuesday.
“For far too long, America’s immigration policies have been based primarily on nepotism, offering the lion’s share of highly coveted U.S. green cards to those with extended family ties in the U.S., without regard to their level of education, skills or ability to compete and contribute to our modern economy,” FAIR President Dan Stein said.
But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, said the legislation sends the wrong message to the world and would kill jobs.
“Cutting successful visa programs and needlessly separating immigrant families is just wrong and senseless,” Ms. Shaheen said.
The diversity visa lottery, which awards green cards to some 50,000 people each year based purely on luck, has long been contentious. Critics say it’s the epitome of a system that allows migrants to choose the U.S. rather than the country choosing those who are best positioned to help American society.
Likewise, the expansive reach of chain migration, which allows immigrants to sponsor parents and siblings for future immigration, has come under fire.
Green card reform could take somewhat of a back seat to securing the border, and Mr. Cotton said the president has broad authority to do what he pleases on the issue.
“He obviously has a lot of initiatives on the security and enforcement front. A lot of those he can do through his own authority that’s been delegated to him by Congress,” he said.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump took somewhat of a mixed approach on visas, in particular the H-1B visas that typically go to highly skilled foreigners who come to the U.S. for work. In office, Mr. Trump has put his efforts into combating potential terrorists and stepping up enforcement against illegal immigrants.