Friday, August 4, 2017

Donald Trump’s new immigration bill is his latest effort to reverse the arc of racial justice

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act or RAISE, the legislation proposed by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and supported by President Trump is "another xenophobic plan rooted in the same old myths about immigrants".

It’s a skills-based immigration system that would cut immigration in half and make it much more difficult for immigrants to immigrate legally.

RAISE limits family members who can apply for green card status to only spouses and minor children. It streamlines merit-based applications, limiting the immigrant pool to only the most skilled and educated applicants. It would also limit residency offers for refugees.

Trump said the legislation would favor applicants “who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.”

The fact is that under existing law, new immigrants contribute to our economy, expand the workforce, and pay billions in taxes. This law would not make it better, it would limit immigrants’ contributions to our economy.

Some Republican senators have already voiced skepticism about the plan.
“They want to cut back significantly on legal immigration and I don’t think that’s wise,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. “I think we ought to continue to be a welcoming nation.” Sen. Lindsey Graham said. He added, it would be “devastating” to South Carolina’s economy, which “relies on this immigrant workforce.”

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

...or not. Today a closed door is the message coming out of the White House from President Trump and some Congressional allies. They can dress it up as much as they want, but it harkens back to some of the uglier moments of our republic.

There was a time when school children would learn the words of Emma Lazarus emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty without a cloud of irony. For all the debate and demonization around illegal immigration - and it should be noted that that issue is a complicated one - what was largely uncontroversial was legal immigration.

That hasn't always been the case. From the Know Nothing Party who railed against Catholics "ruining the real America" in the mid-19th century, to the anti-semitism, anti-Asian, and all the other anti feelings after the great waves of immigration over the 19th and early 20th century, several times we have seen bigotry undermine America's destiny as a land of open opportunity.

Now of course we cannot be home to everyone, but we can be as humane as possible. We also can recognize how much immigrants have shaped our culture, powered our economy, and sparked our scientific and technical innovations.

As President Trump sees a country increasingly unified against his divisive agenda, he is reaching for one of the oldest tools in the American political playbook. Stir division. Pit people against each other. Blame others for your own problems. Like with his attacks on transgender soldiers, I think the blowback here will be strong. I suspect Mr. Trump will couch this action by saying he is fighting for the rights of blue-collar America (which in his incarnation is mostly white). He may get some traction. We do need an open and honest debate over immigration in America, but do we really want to begin that debate with a cynical gambit such as this?

By Matthew Guterl, Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies, Brown University