Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and David Perdue, R-Georgia, proposed the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act Feb. 7, which aims to cut legal immigration by 50 percent by eliminating several categories of family-based visas.
Most significantly, the bill would eliminate the preference for adult parents of U.S. citizens; the aging parents of Indian Americans would no longer be considered a priority if the measure were to pass. But for U.S. citizens wishing to bring in their elderly parents who need caregiving, the measure does provide a temporary, two-year visa on the condition that the parent does not work and will not need public benefits.
“This is a throw-back to the immigration system pre-1965, which was reformed because it was a racist, white supremacist piece of legislation which excluded Asians and South Asians altogether,” Anoop Prasad, senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, told India-West.
“This is a troubling, misguided piece of legislation. It’s pretty clear that they’re putting the racist, xenophobic, white nationalist rhetoric into action,” said the Indian American attorney.
The RAISE Act has not yet been introduced in the Senate. A legislative aide for Perdue told India-West that the senators were planning to introduce the legislation in the Senate in a couple of weeks, after the confirmation for several Cabinet posts has been completed. “There would be no time to debate the bill if it was introduced now,” he explained.
A copy of the bill has not yet been released. But the senators did release an outline of their proposal at a press conference Feb. 7.
The RAISE Act would keep in place immigration preferences for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. But it would eliminate preferences for the extended and adult family members of U.S. residents, including adult parents and siblings of U.S. citizens; married and unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens; and the unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents.
More than one million legal immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 2015, noted the senators. The RAISE Act would cut immigration by 41 percent in the first year – down to about 638,000 – and by 50 percent by its 10th year – slightly more than 500,000.
“Over the past 25 years, we have allowed immigrants in without consideration of what our American workforce needs,” said Cotton at the press conference, noting that wages for unskilled workers have dropped by two percent. “We’re pulling the rug out from underneath the feet of blue collar workers and creating a permanent underclass,” he said.
Cotton and Perdue advocated for merit-based immigration, which would prioritize highly-skilled workers. Only one out of every 16 immigrants is highly-skilled, noted Cotton, adding that the other 15 are competing with high school graduates and those without college degrees for jobs.
“Both parties should be focused on what’s best for American citizens, especially those who work with their hands and their feet,” he said in an interview with Fox News. “The elites are out of touch with working people.”
Prasad of ALC told India-West there was no data to correlate Cotton’s statement about immigrants impacting lower wages. “Many studies have shown that immigration just grows the economy. Immigrants contribute to the economy and create jobs for high and low-skilled workers,” he said.
Lakshmi Sridaran, director of national policy and advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together, told India-West that the RAISE Act was one of several pieces of legislation intended to threaten immigrants.
“It vilifies and denigrates our community, by saying: ‘You are the reason Americans don’t have jobs. You are the reason behind low wages,’” said the Indian American civil rights activist. “We are seeing again the prioritization of American workers, while the U.S. economy is creating a demand for foreign workers,” she said.
“Our communities are on high alert,” said Sridaran.
SAALT is planning a series of regional town hall meetings this spring to address the bill and several executive orders issued by President Donald Trump that threaten the immigrant community. The organization will also focus on several immigrant friendly bills, such as legislation introduced Feb. 9 by California Sen. Kamala Harris, which would give the right to legal representation to everyone who turns up at the nation’s borders; and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker’s bill, which bans a Muslim registry.