Aging Parents Eliminated in Proposed Merit-Based Immigration System Overhaul Supported by Trump

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Civil rights groups take a stand against the RAISE act's xenophobic principles

President Donald Trump Aug. 2 unveiled the RAISE Act, a new Senate bill that would employ a merit-based system for admitting new immigrants, cutting out preferences for extended family members, including parents and grandparents of legal U.S. residents and citizens.

The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act aims to cut legal immigration by 50 percent. Aging parents of Indian Americans, among others, would no longer be considered a priority for Green Cards if the measure were to pass. But for U.S. citizens wishing to bring in their elderly parents who need caregiving, the measure does provide a temporary, two-year visa on the condition that the parent does not work and will not need public benefits.

The RAISE Act would keep in place immigration preferences for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. But it would eliminate preferences for the extended and adult family members of U.S. residents, including adult parents and siblings of U.S. citizens; married and unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens; and the unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents.

Civil rights organizations have denounced the RAISE Act as a racist, xenophobic piece of legislation.

“As a candidate, I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers — and that is why we are here today. Merit-based,” said the president in a briefing at the White House Roosevelt Room, standing amid Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and David Perdue, R-Georgia, who introduced the RAISE Act in the Senate Feb. 7.

Trump opined that the RAISE Act would save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, reducing poverty and increasing wages, by allotting points to applicants who speak English, demonstrate the ability to support themselves financially, and possess skills which allow them to significantly contribute to the U.S. economy.

“For decades, the United States was operated and has operated a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing record numbers of Green Cards to low-wage immigrants,” said Trump at the briefing.

“This policy has placed substantial pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources. Among those hit the hardest in recent years have been immigrants and, very importantly, minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals. And it has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers,” said the president.

More than one million legal immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 2015, noted the senators. The RAISE Act would cut immigration by 41 percent in the first year – down to about 638,000 – and by 50 percent by its 10th year – slightly more than 500,000.

Trump’s support of the RAISE Act is seemingly at odds with an executive order he issued in April, which seeks to overhaul the H-1B program for highly-skilled foreign workers. Signing the order, the president proclaimed that highly-skilled foreign workers displace U.S. employees.

Perdue noted that 50 percent of households headed by legal immigrants participate in our social welfare system.

The Center for Immigration Studies – a conservative think tank that favors reducing the number of legal immigrants – reported in 2015 that 51 percent of legal residents receive some form of federal aid.

“Right now, only one 1 out of 15 immigrants who come into our country come in with skills that are employable,” stated Perdue at the White House briefing. “If we're going to continue as the innovator in the world and the leader economically, it's imperative that our immigration system focus on highly skilled, permanent workers who can add value to our economy and ultimately achieve their own version of the American Dream.”

Cotton noted that the vast majority of new immigrants arrive with no job skills, and compete with low-wage workers for jobs. “That means it puts great downward pressure on people who work with their hands and work on their feet,” he said.

“Now, for some people, they may think that that's a symbol of America's virtue and generosity. I think it's a symbol that we're not committed to working-class Americans. And we need to change that,” stated Cotton.

The senator opined that the current immigration system robs the U.S. of the very best talent available worldwide.

Civil rights organizations immediately denounced the president’s support of the RAISE Act. “Today's revised RAISE Act, backed heavily by the White House, is part of an undisguised and coordinated attack on immigrant communities across the spectrum," stated Lakshmi Sridaran, director of National Policy and Advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together.

"The draconian use of legislation and executive orders to criminalize and marginalize immigrant communities reveals the inherent xenophobia of this administration. From bans to walls to raids to this current focus on slashing Green Card numbers, there is a concerted effort to purge immigrants from our nation,” the Indian American activist said.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted in a press statement: “We are a nation of immigrants, and proposals to cut down on family visas contradict our fundamental principles and values. Family reunification is an essential part of who we are as a country, and is critical to supporting those who have come here to seek better lives for themselves and who are working hard to boost our economy.”

“Immigrants are vital to our economy, our national security, and are an integral part of the fabric of our communities. Congress must still act on comprehensive immigration reform. We will continue fighting to keep America's doors open and the true promise of our country alive,” stated Gupta.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice vehemently stated its opposition to the measure in a press statement. “The RAISE Act is part of a larger strategy to scapegoat immigrants and further marginalize people of color. Contrary to the xenophobic and misguided stereotypes that belie the RAISE Act, immigrants contribute immensely to our economy, create jobs for all Americans, and increase safety in our communities,” noted the organization.

“Our government should focus on policy solutions that promote economic security and prosperity for all members of our society. We will fight against this attack on our families and communities,” stated AAAJ.

IANS adds: While such a system would appear to favor the highly qualified immigrants from India, the specifics – like how it would enable those holding the temporary H1 visas to transition to permanent Green Cards and if the current national quotas that restrict annual immigration from India and most countries to 20,000 would still apply – will have to be examined to gauge the impact on India.

If it succeeds in Congress, this will be the first whole reform of the immigration system since 1964 when what were essentially race-based quotas were done away with, opening the way for Indian immigrants, whose numbers have now swelled to about three million.