In Republican politics, we tend to think of the immigration debate in binary terms: one GOP contingent takes a more progressive view towards undocumented immigrants, supporting measures such as the Dream Act and a pathway to citizenship, while another contingent pushes a hardline stance, condemning reforms as “amnesty.”
But this framework is ultimately incomplete, because there are plenty of Republicans who aren’t just concerned with immigrants who’ve entered the country illegally; they also want to curtail legal immigration.
Today, Donald Trump threw his support behind just such a proposal. NBC News reported:
President Donald Trump announced his support Wednesday for legislation that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States while moving to a “merit-based” system of entry. […]
The RAISE Act, which [Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue] introduced in February, would scrap the current lottery system to get into the U.S. and instead institute a points-based system for earning a green card. Factors that would be taken into account include English language skills, education, high-paying job offers and age….. Slashing legal immigration is a key feature of the Cotton-Perdue bill.
It’s that last part that’s going to be the most controversial. Trump isn’t just talking about moving away from a lottery system; he’s specifically throwing his support behind a proposal that drastically reduces the number of immigrants who can come to the United States legally.
And while this may seem predictable given Trump’s rhetoric about immigration since he launched his presidential campaign two years ago, today’s announcement was not a foregone conclusion. As NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin reported earlier this year, many in the business community are enthusiastic supporters of legal immigration, and Trump had signaled to them that he’d be on their side.
Of course, Trump had also told opponents of legal immigration that he’d be with them. (When politicians don’t really understand what they’re saying, they tend to agree with the last person they spoke to.)
Regardless, now that the president has taken a side in a very public way, what happens?
In the short term, nothing. The Cotton-Perdue proposal Trump endorsed today is just a bill, which to date hasn’t gained much traction. There’s no imminent vote on the measure in either chamber, and today’s White House event was basically a glorified press release: it was Trump’s way of letting everyone know that he’s found a bill he likes.
But as Roll Call noted, plenty of Republicans don’t care.
[T]he realities of the Senate suggest the president and his team should tread lightly on the topic. Despite the White House fanfare, the measure was immediately criticized by other Senate Republicans.
“I’m all for skills and merit based immigration but … we’re short of workers,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. “We need migrant laborers to milk our dairy cows.” If made law, the Trump-Cotton-Perdue bill would “harm economic growth,” Johnson said.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of the chamber’s proponents of immigration reform, said he opposes parts of the Trump-Cotton-Perdue bill that “would reduce legal immigration by half, including many immigrants who work legally in our agriculture, tourism and service industries.”
Graham also said in a statement that the legislation “will not only hurt our agriculture, tourism and service economy in South Carolina, it incentivizes more illegal immigration as positions go unfilled.”
The responses from congressional Democrats are likely to be even less kind.
In other words, the president may like this bill, but if he’s expecting it to reach his desk anytime soon, Trump should probably lower his expectations.