The immigration policy of President Trump has been called hard-line, devastating, cruel, un-American, and anti-family. People are quick to offer their opinions but slow to dive into the actual legislation to discover what it really says. Today we will do just that: dive in.
On August 3, Trump announced his support of S. 1720, a bill introduced by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and co-sponsored by Senator David Perdue of Georgia, two Republicans. Trump said: “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first.”
He called it the “RAISE Act;” short for “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act.”
The RAISE Act was initially introduced to the Senate back in February and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was then revised and reintroduced in August.
Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller and former adviser Steve Bannon promoted and helped shape the bill.
Many have dismissed this bill because it has not attracted any additional co-sponsors, and Republican leaders in Congress have no plans to vote on it in 2017. However, the bill remains relevant as it gives insight into the thoughts of the President and other leading figures on their ideal immigration system. Additionally, although this bill may not pass, it may influence another bill in the future.
Section-by-section, the bill seeks to:
- Section 2: Eliminate the visa diversity lottery program.
- Section 3: Enforce the 50,000 annual refugee cap. 84,995 refugees entered the US in 2016.
- Section 4: Narrow the meaning of “immediate relatives”.
- Section 5: Replace the employment-based immigration system with a points-based immigration system
- Section 6: Add one prerequisite for naturalization
These sections altogether would result in around a 30 percent reduction to green cards issued.
Let’s take a look at each section in turn.
(For more numbers on green cards, take a look at this frequently cited report.)
SECTION 1: SHORT TITLE
This is my favorite section. It states the short, “fun” title.
This Act may be cited as the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act” or the “RAISE Act”.
SECTION 2: ELIMINATES THE DIVERSITY IMMIGRANT VISA PROGRAM
After Section 1, things start to get hairy quick. Section 2 eliminates the diversity visa program.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, allows would-be immigrants to receive a United States Permanent Resident Card, or green cards, through a lottery system. This system was established in The Immigration Act of 1990.
The lottery provides 50,000 green cards each year and aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. To do this it selects applicants from countries with low rates of immigration in the five years prior.
Eligibility is determined by the applicant’s birth country, not country of residence.
Section 2 eliminates all of that.
“(a) In General.—Section 203 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1153) is amended by striking subsection (c).”
It is blasted clear out of the water and not replaced.
SECTION 3: REMOVES EXCEPTIONS FOR THE ANNUAL REFUGEE CAP OF 50,000
Section 3 establishes a refugee cap of 50,000 that kind of, debatably, already existed. At the very least, it removes exceptions to the 50,000 rule.
This section makes major changes to 8 U.S.C. 1157. 1157 says: the number of refugees who may be admitted may not exceed fifty thousand . . . unless the President determines . . . that admission of a specific number of refugees in excess of such number is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest.
But that clause apparently only applied to a few years in the early eighties. Ever since then Presidents have been welcoming however many refugees they want.
(Take a look here for refugee numbers.)
Also, President Trump has tried to cap the refugee intake at 50,000 in various ways already. So again, at the very least, this bill eliminates the options for the President to raise the cap for “grave humanitarian concerns” or the “national interest.” The new code would read:
“(1) IN GENERAL.—The number of refugees who may be admitted under this section in any fiscal year may not exceed 50,000.”
Also, an interesting change: special discretionary decision-making power is transferred from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Homeland Security. So the Secretary of Homeland Security would be able to admit any refugee who is not firmly resettled in any foreign country, is determined to be of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and is otherwise admissible as an immigrant.
SECTION 4: LIMITS THE REACH OF FAMILY SPONSORED VISAS
This section primarily narrows the meaning of “immediate relative.” It effectively removes family-visa pathways for siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for permanent residency status in the U.S. It limits the family path to spouses and minor children.
It redefines “immediate relative” as spouse and children under 18 years old. Whereas before it included children up 21, parents, and siblings.
“Family-sponsored immigrants described in this subsection are qualified immigrants who are the spouse or a child of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.”
It allows for 88,000 immigrants minus the number of aliens paroled that did not depart and did not acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted.
It also deals with some rather complicated things like how many of these visas are subject to country limitation and when the visa of a dependent parent can be extended.
SECTION 5: REPLACES THE EMPLOYMENT-BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM WITH A POINTS BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
Section 5 establishes a point-system which would replace the employment-based system with the points based system. This is one of the more innovative or creative sections; the system is surprisingly simple. Notably, the caliber of immigrants accepted under the current employment-based system is already remarkably high. So, If the points-based system were implemented then a sufficiently large number of applicants would accrue enough points to maintain a large applicant pool — a large enough pool to keep the number of employment sponsored green cards the same.
Raise keeps the current level of employment visas which is 140,000.
“(1) IN GENERAL.—The worldwide level of points-based immigrant visas issued during any fiscal year may not exceed 140,000.”
The points system invites any qualifying applicant to apply for submission into the eligible applicant pool. Applicants apply online and pay a $160 fee. An applicant is eligible if they accrue over 30 points. The applicants with the highest point counts are then siphoned off the top every six months until 140,000 people are admitted.
Selected applicants are invited to submit another application which would include valid documentation, an attestation from the prospective employer, the annual salary being offered, a declaration that the job position is new or vacant, health insurance records, and a fee of $345.
If the applicant is accepted, spouses, minor children, and dependent adult children can also be issued a visa.
In regards to the points, the goal is to accrue 30 points. Points are allotted by status in each category.
Would You Qualify for Legal Immigration to the U.S.?
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SECTION 6: CHANGES THE PREREQUISITE FOR NATURALIZATION
Section 6 mostly does some housekeeping to an already standing section of US code. However, at the end, it adds a term that disqualifies from naturalization people who have outstanding debts owed to the federal government.
And that’s the RAISE Act explained section-by-section. We’ll see what bill comes next for immigration.