By Mary Giovagnoli
Last week, amidst much fanfare at the White House, Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced the Restoring American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, a bill that dramatically restricts legal immigration to the United States. The President has enthusiastically endorsed the bill as a mechanism for protecting American jobs and restoring our economy, but the legislation is built on a series of falsehoods and myths about immigrants that have been spread and nurtured by anti-immigration supporters—many of whom are now in the Trump Administration—for years.
According to the bill’s sponsors and allies, America needs the RAISE act because immigrants are bad for the American economy. This flies directly in the face of an influential study released last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Math that concluded that immigration resulted in a net gain for the economy and has little impact on native born wages. The RAISE Act slashes family-based immigration by at least 50% on the theory that family-based applicants are admitted without any valuable skills to contribute to the country. In fact, family members—parents, adult children, brothers and sisters—bring a wide range of skills and also offer less tangible measures of support within their family network. The bill completely ignores the importance of family in nurturing and supporting not only the economic success of immigrants but also their full integration into the community.
The RAISE Act also replaces the current employment based category of admission with a so-called merit-based system that rewards applicants based on education and English proficiency, again on the theory that only certain kinds of highly-educated, English-speaking people can contribute to this country. In fact, while America needs highly-skilled and educated immigrants, people of all abilities and skills are necessary to create sustained economic growth and to support our aging population. The RAISE Act also caps refugees at 50,000 admissions annually, arguing falsely that refugees are a drain on the economy. Not only is that a myth, but it ignores the humanitarian and global necessity of welcoming refugees at a time when the number of refugees and displaced persons, according to the United Nations, is greater than anytime since World War II.
Take action today! Urge your Senators to stop the RAISE Act on Connecting Our World.
In short, the RAISE Act turns the best economic analysis of the value of immigrants and immigration on its head and ignores compelling evidence from other disciplines. Although all of these anti-immigrant myths have been rebutted countless times, they continue to persist because they fulfill the unfortunate need to blame someone—anyone—for our economic woes, for our fears about the future, and, in some cases, to fuel racism and prejudice.
There are better, smarter, and more coherent answers to improving our immigration system. We need Congress to pass legislation that updates our immigration laws to accommodate more people, not fewer. Legalizing the undocumented, maintaining adequate visas to meet demand, updating our non-immigrant visa policies to make them more responsive and flexible, ensuring access for students and scholars no matter where they come from, and treating everyone with dignity—even if they may be removed from the country—should be at the top of our lists.
We raise America up by opening our arms, not by turning our backs.
Mary Giovagnoli is the senior director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.