Sen. Cotton: Limiting Green Cards Would Help Blue-collar Workers

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Dardanelle). File photo.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Tuesday (Feb. 7) introduced a bill meant to reduce legal immigration levels by 50%, which he said would increase wages earned by American workers.

According to Cotton’s office, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act would reduce overall legal immigrants to 637,960 in its first year and to 539,958 by its tenth year, compared to 1,051,031 immigrants in 2015.

Cotton introduced the bill along with U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. In the press conference, Cotton said the country has seen a significant increase in immigration during the past 40 years – 1 million immigrants per year over the past 25 years, which is above the historical norm. Only one out of every 15 legal immigrants is coming for unemployment reasons. Meanwhile, they are being given visas without considering the workforce’s needs.

“Put those two together, and what do you get? … A sharp decline in wages for working Americans,” he said, pointing to the fact that Americans with only a high school diploma have seen their wages fall by 2% by 1979, while wages have fallen 17% for those without a diploma.

Cotton said that while automation and globalization are factors, “There’s no denying this 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.”

The RAISE Act contains three provisions that Cotton said would “rebalanc(e) the system toward merit-based immigration,” like those operated by Canada and Australia. He said the system should reward skills, language ability and demonstrated economic potential.

First, it would eliminate certain categories of extended and adult family members given preferential treatment for visas while retaining preferences for the spouses and unmarried minor children of American citizens and legal permanent residents. A temporary visa would be available for elderly parents who are ill and won’t work or accept public benefits.

Second, it would eliminate the diversity lottery, which offers more than 50,000 visas. Cotton said the lottery is supposed to award visas to foreigners from diverse locations, but many go to Europeans. He said the lottery is plagued by fraud and allows green card holders to work around the system. Once they arrive, they can begin bringing members of their extended family and their village to the United States.

Finally, the RAISE Act would limit the number of refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 annually, which is consistent with the 13-year average.

Cotton said the bill is targeted to those goals rather than broader immigration reform.

He said he had discussed the bill as a concept with President Donald Trump Tuesday morning and during the fall and said Trump supports creating a merit-based system. He said the U.S. system would still be among the world’s most generous and open.