Trump's Immigration Plan: RAISE Act or RACE Act?

Reeling from the defeat of the GOP’s latest attempt to dismantle the health care system, the Trump administration is gearing itself up for a new start. Though Trump continues to make noise about potentially sabotaging the ACA by withholding payments to insurance companies (Donald Trump not paying his bills? Well, color me shocked), the administration has — for the moment — decided to set its sights on another of Trump’s campaign planks: the protection of white Americans.

It began with a report that the Trump administration will direct the Justice Department to investigate (and sue, where possible) colleges and universities whose admissions practices are believed to be discriminatory against white applicants.

And on Wednesday, the Trump administration endorsed legislation by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would cut the number of permitted legal immigrations in half.

The bill, which was first introduced in February, would reduce the distribution of green cards from over 1 million per year to a little more than 500,000; in addition, the bill also proposes a “merit-based” immigration system, in which the job and language skills of potential immigrants  would be weighted more heavily than their family ties to U.S. citizens.

On its face, the legislation itself seems relatively innocuous. Senator Cotton believes that our current immigration system is “a symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans and we need to change that.” Supporters of the legislation have also referenced Canada’s immigration system, indicating that the U.S. is simply adopting the same policies as our neighbor to the north. (For what it’s worth, the U.S. already lets in fewer than half as many legal immigrants relative to our population as Canada does.)

But despite what Cotton, Perdue, and Trump think, cutting down on immigration would not improve the economic prospects of working-class Americans; in fact, it would harm them.

A study by the Cato Institute found that legal immigrants actually help the wages of working-class Americans. In a nutshell, immigration spurs economic growth, which means that American-born workers with a high-school degree or greater (92.4% of the workforce) receive higher wages. Even the small percentage of high-school dropouts in the workforce can still benefit from legal immigration.

From an economic standpoint, immigration leads to more workers; more workers means more growth — the kind of growth that the U.S. economy desperately needs right now. Baby boomers are retiring, but due to the fact that the U.S. birthrate has just fallen to a new low, there will be fewer workers to replace them.

On top of that, studies have shown that immigration pushes native-born Americans to get more advanced education, and since many legal immigrants perform domestic work, native-born American women are more likely to join the workforce, which further boosts economic growth. Not to mention, immigration increases property values, a benefit to those who own homes.

Let’s put aside for a moment that Trump has a history of racist rhetoric, and that he campaigned and won on an ethno-nationalist platform. Even if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume that this legislation was indeed crafted with the well-being of working-class Americans in mind, economists overwhelmingly believe that such a decrease in legal immigration would slow the economy, not boost it.

So why would Trump endorse such a plan?

Well, that’s where Trump’s — and to a larger degree, White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller’s and chief strategist Steve Bannon’s — ethno-nationalist ideology comes into play. Bannon has repeatedly railed against immigration and globalism, and Miller has a long history of antipathy towards Latinos and other minorities.

For evidence, we need only look at the groups most likely to be affected by the proposed legislation. The limitation on family sponsorship would disproportionately impact Hispanics and Asians. Meanwhile, the elimination of the Diversity Visa program (a program that allows 50,000 new immigrants a year from countries that send comparatively fewer immigrants) would lower the number of African immigrants (roughly 24% of all African immigrants are admitted through the diversity visa). And the prioritization of English language skills and education level would primarily benefit — you guessed it — white immigrants.

Trump also noted that the RAISE Act will prevent immigrants from coming to America and “collecting welfare.” Leaving aside the fact that immigrants aren’t allowed to collect welfare for their first 5 years in the United States, Trump’s assertion also calls to mind the dog-whistle rhetoric that has permeated the political discourse since the days of Lee Atwater.

An unintended (or perhaps not) consequence of a piece of legislation like the RAISE Act is that it will undoubtedly lead to increases in illegal immigration. Despite its best efforts, America is still viewed by many as the land of opportunity; decreasing legal immigration will not only negatively impact our economy, but it will also contribute to a rise in illegal immigration. I can’t help but wonder if Trump and his advisors know this, and are “solving” one problem to make another problem worse — the kind of problem they can use to campaign for reelection in 2020.

The bill is unlikely to ever become law in its current form — it would require 60 votes that the GOP simply does not have. Regardless, that this bill was even endorsed by the Trump administration is cause for alarm. Expertly disguised though it may be, the ethno-nationalist bent of a piece of legislation such as this is a clear indicator of the ultimate goal of the Trump administration:

Make America White Again.

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