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Tom Cotton Seeks to Limit Legal Immigration With the RAISE Act
02/13/2017 Immigration Mark M
keywords: Illegal RAISE Act H1B

While American streets fill with angry citizens protesting against President Trump’s controversial promises to remake the nation’s immigration policies, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) began introducing legislation to fulfill those promises in Congress. Cotton’s first bill will change laws to reduce avenues for legal immigration, something that is likely to enrage Democrats and confound members of his own Republican party.

Cotton is co-sponsoring the bill with Georgia Senator David Perdue (R-GA). It’s called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act. It would limit the number of family members US Citizens and current legal residents can sponsor for “green cards.” The bill would eliminate the diversity visa lottery, a venue for entry into the US for people from nations with low US immigration rates and would limit the number of refugees to 50,000 persons per year. The current limit is 70,000 per year, with limits for each region of the world.

Republicans have looked favorably upon legal immigration over the years. They have supported immigration for businesses through H1B visas and other work visas in party platforms. They have also shown support for allowing these workers to keep their families together through sponsorships. Mainstream Republicans like former Florida governor Jeb Bush made the case for a kinder conservative reform of immigration in his book Immigration Wars.

Since the 1980s, Republicans have voiced support for making the US a sanctuary for those who face oppression in foreign lands. They’ve been especially supportive of those who faced discrimination based upon religion or escaping political oppression in places like Cuba and China.

So then, the RAISE Act would be a departure from Republican orthodoxy. However, it is in line with the philosophy of the current President. Donald Trump’s call for reforms in legal immigration were overshadowed by his call for building a wall between the US and Mexico and promising to ban Muslim immigrants from the country “until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Cotton and Perdue believe the RAISE Act would return immigration to “historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.” Cotton takes a pseudo-populist view, arguing, as he did in a New York Times editorial, that his policy focuses on the average Joe and not the billionaire industrialist.

The Senate immigration reform bill with bipartisan support is the “Gang of Eight” bill introduced in 2013. The bill’s signees view immigration as important to economic growth, and made allowances for both low and high-skilled workers to immigrate legally into the US.

Cotton's bill will have a tough path to passage. The Democrats in the Senate and House will certainly vote “no” on the bill. While Cotton’s ideas may have some support in the House Republican Caucus and in the Justice Department, where the new Attorney General Sessions has supported such ideas, Senate moderates may well thumb their noses at any bill that restricts businesses from hiring the talent they need from overseas. Any bill that threatens the H1B program won’t find too many friends on the Hill.


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