This past week, Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced their immigration bill in a press conference with President Trump. They called it the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act. The stated purpose is to shift away from the current system that allows for individuals who arrive and become permanent residents or citizens to then petition for non-nuclear family members to join them (“chain”-immigration). Refugees will also be capped at 50,000 a year. The system would instead put in place a strong preference for highly-skilled (by their definition) immigrants. The details of the bill matter, and I may cover this or link to articles analyzing its potential impact elsewhere. Here I want to cover something else that should be obvious. Yet it seems we consistently forget who we are.
Donald Trump’s paternal grandfather was born in Germany and arrived in the United States at the age of 16 and initially worked as a barber. His mother was born in Scotland and came to America at the age of 18 and worked as a domestic servant. Donald Trump’s current wife was born in what is now Slovenia, and she may have initially worked in the United States prior to obtaining a legal work visa. It is not clear if any of these individuals would have qualified to legally immigrate to the United States under the proposed RAISE Act.
Many think tanks, commentators and other elected representatives have also praised the bill. Representative Lou Barletta, a Trump loyalist from the state of Pennsylvania and likely challenger of Democratic Senator Casey in 2018 said: “This influx of low-skilled immigrant labor has decreased wages for those without college degrees [. . .] and threatens to place the American Dream out of reach for far too many workers and their families.” Obvious from Rep. Barletta’s name is that he is of Italian descent. His paternal grandmother was an immigrant at an early age. His mother was also the daughter of Italian immigrants. Prior to the maternal grandfather’s passing, his occupation title was “laborer”. It is likely that none of Barletta’s immigrant ancestors would have been allowed into the country legally under the proposed legislation.
Here is an example of some of the attacks that Barletta’s ancestors likely faced when they entered the country in the late 19th and early 20th century.
According to the White House press release, some other notable people who praised the proposed legislation include Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte. Secretary Acosta is a son of Cuban immigrants who fled Castro (refugees or asylum-seekers). Rep. Goodlatte’s maternal grandfather was German and born in Russia, and worked as a merchant, having immigrated to the United States at the age of 24-25. It is unlikely that a merchant would qualify as a skilled immigrant.
It is important to note that the bill attempts to do two things. First, change what the make-up of the immigrant population is. This could be defensible, if we exclude the immoral cap on the number of refugees. Second, cut the number of legal immigrants in half. Criticisms of the second task have so far resulted in defenses that simply point out that Australia and Canada have merit-based systems. To the extent that they actually defend the immigration number cut, they point to limited research from George Borjas showing a slight negative wage impact on low-skill native workers based on the Mariel Boatlift and Miami. They also neglect to mention that Canada currently has 250,000 immigrants per year. The proposed bill would allow a maximum of 500,000 immigrants into the United States, which has a population roughly 9 times that of Canada.
For all of the supposed concern about low-skill native workers in this country, who have been consistently shafted by Republicans for the last 40 years along with everyone else who isn’t born wealthy, none of the people who have praised and introduced this legislation have supported stronger unions, or higher minimum wages, or expansions of health insurance, or expansions of the safety net, or free college or vocational schooling. In many cases the elected officials who support the RAISE Act have advocated and passed legislation doing the precise opposite. Their solution is now to “reform” the system with the larger goal of cutting the number of immigrants to the United States of America, a country of immigrants, and make further scapegoats out of refugees.