Trump joins GOP senators on immigration changes



Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday embraced legislation from two Republican senators that would place new limits on legal immigration and seek to create a system based more on merit and skills than family ties.

Trump joined with Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to trumpet the bill, which has so far gained little traction in the Senate. The president said if approved the measure would represent “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”

The president has made cracking down on illegal immigration a hallmark of his administration and has tried to slash federal grants for cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally.

But he has also vowed to make changes to the legal immigration system, arguing that immigrants compete with Americans for much-needed jobs and drive wages down.

Most economists dispute the president’s argument, noting that immigration in recent decades doesn’t appear to have meaningfully hurt wages in the long run. Increased immigration is also associated with faster growth because the country is adding workers, so restricting the number of immigrants could slow the economy’s potential to expand.

The bill’s supporters, meanwhile, say it would make the U.S. more competitive, raise wages and create jobs.

Perdue and Cotton’s legislation would replace the current process for obtaining legal permanent residency, or green cards, creating a skillsbase point system for employment visas. The bill would also eliminate the preference for U.S. residents’ extended and adult family members, while maintaining priority for their spouses and minor children.

The bill would also aim to slash the number of refugees in half and eliminate a program that provides visas to countries with low rates of immigration.

Cotton told reporters the bill would double the number of green cards available to high-skilled workers and would not affect other high or low-skilled worker visa programs such as H1-B and H2-B visas. The Trump Organization has asked for dozens of H-2B visas for foreign workers at two of Trump’s private clubs in Florida, including his Mar-a-Lago resort. The White House said that only 1 in 15 immigrants comes to the U.S. because of their skills, and the current system fails to place a priority on highly skilled immigrants.

But the Senate has largely ignored the measure, with no other lawmaker signing on as a co-sponsor. GOP leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year, and Democrats quickly dismissed it.