By Haley Henderson
One of Georgia’s two senators is also one of two sponsors of a bill that seeks to change the number of immigrants allowed into the U.S and the number of immigrants allowed to work here.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, represent states that the Migration Policy Institute estimates have more than 1,220,000 legal immigrants combined. But in February 2017, they proposed S.354, “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act” (RAISE Act), which proposes cutting the number of people legally allowed into the country and the ways they could enter.
In essence, the RAISE Act would favor highly skilled immigrants and their immediate family for the purposes of economic improvement for the American people. However, research suggests that these actions would have a negative effect on our economy.
In reacting to the elements of this bill, Nur Jahan, a senior at Chamblee Charter High School who immigrated from Bangladesh as a child, said, “So, it’s a way to make it seem like you’re helping [immigrants and U.S. citizens], but not actually helping.”
The bill’s summary reads: “This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the diversity immigrant visa category.” It proposes to change both the family immigration and employment immigration pathways now in place. It would “limit the President’s discretion in setting the number of refugees admitted annually,” reduce the annual level of “family-sponsored immigrants,” create a new “nonimmigrant classification for the parents of adult U.S. citizens” among other actions.
The bill also advocates for a point system for entrance to the U.S. This point system is designed to reinforce the idea that only the immigrants with the highest skill level should be allowed into the country. It takes into account things like English ability, education level, job offer salary and any applicable international awards.
“There shouldn’t be a point system because it doesn’t matter. If you can do your job, and you do it right, there shouldn’t be a way that you can be scaled,” Jahan said.
Implementing this legislation would eliminate 4 million people’s applications currently awaiting approval, according to a report by Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, published last August.
Those against the bill point to a statistic from a simulation run by Ernie Tedeschi, a Washington, D.C., economist who says 2 percent of adult American citizens would qualify for the RAISE skills visa.
A White House press release from Aug. 2, suggested: “For decades, low-skilled and unskilled immigration into the United States has surged, depressing wages and harming America’s most vulnerable citizens.” The same press release quoted President Donald Trump in February 2017 on his logic in supporting the bill: “It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.”
However, a study published by the University of Pennsylvania on Aug. 10 suggests the act would lower gross domestic product, reduce economic growth and raise the unemployment rates. The study posits that immigrants — who are consumers and workers in the U.S. economy — have a such a strong impact on the economy that it would fall 12.5 percent below its projected level.
“It’s unfair because somebody may have no work experience, but they’re a very skilled worker. They may have really good work ethic. You were so focused on your grades and education that you didn’t get a job, but you have really good grades. But jobs — most jobs — don’t care about that,” Jahan said.
Another effect proponents of the bill push, is a change in who gets preference in the legal immigration system. Under previous law, the extended family of a U.S. citizen could immigrate to the U.S. since approved lawful residents could bring their parents, siblings and children. Those people could then sponsor their parents, siblings and children.
“It’s actually very, very difficult [to bring family members to the United States]. My mom has gone through that to bring my family members here. … We waited three to five years just for them to get here.” Jahan said.
RAISE says only the nuclear family, meaning minor children and parents, can immigrate with a citizen.
In discussing the impact this would have on families, Jahan said again and again, “I feel like that’s not enough.”
That said, nonresident parents of U.S. citizens are granted nonimmigrant status, which can be renewed every five years. However, they would be denied any public benefit including federal, local and state programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance and Medicaid.
“I’ve always loved being in a big ol’ family. I mean, trust me, sometimes I want my own space … but I promise when holidays roll around, you want to be together. Getting together as a huge family is something I feel like is important. But I feel like it’s a struggle, because only having your immediate family, I feel like you have to be grateful. But it’s not enough. It’s hard,” Jahan said.
In August, Politico and Morning Consult conducted a poll on American sentiment toward parts of the bill. Despite data showing potential economic decline resulting from the proposed legislation, 58 percent of people surveyed backed limiting the number of immigrants who can be offered permanent residency, and 60 percent backed a merit-based point system. Forty-five percent of people surveyed supported ending the ability of new citizens to obtain green cards for extended family.
In contrast, Jahan said the benefits of immigrants in the United States abound and outweigh other considerations.
“Of course [there are benefits]! One, you get diversity, and all of the food. Oh my God, the food is amazing. They contribute a lot: art, food, schools and education, how much they bring. They can progress the country a lot because in foreign countries they make us work 10 times harder. My cousins work so hard in different countries whereas I’m just swooping through high school. They stay up till the sun comes up to get their work done. They work so hard in their own countries, and they can work 10 times harder in this country. But they don’t appreciate that here.”
The bill has not passed the U.S. Senate yet. The RAISE Act was referred to the Judiciary Committee last February, but it gained media attention again in August when the White House announced President Trump’s support for it.
Sen. Perdue’s office did not respond by press time to a request for comment about his proposed legislation.
Haley, 15, is a sophomore at Grady High School.
This story was published at VOXAtl.com, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. For more about the nonprofit VOX, visit www.voxatl.org.