President Trump’s support of a proposal by Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas to reduce the number of legal immigrants needs more attention than some critics would like. In fact, U.S. immigration policy should be re-examined.
Immigration law, currently in force, admits about 1 million immigrants annually. The law permits immigrants based on the principle of family reunification and qualifications for employment. Approximately two-thirds of immigrants get legal status based on family ties, and less than one-fifth based on employment. The lottery for those countries poorly represented among immigrants and refugees brings the total to 1 million.
The Immigration Act of 1924 had restricted immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. It restricted entry of Africans even more severely, and banned immigration of Arabs and Asians. This policy was abandoned by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that placed every country on same footing.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed by Congress in 1986, unsuccessfully attempted to stem the tide of illegal immigrants by granting amnesty to those among them considered qualified on the basis of continued, albeit unlawful, residence in the United States or an employment record in seasonal agriculture.
While it is impossible to abandon the principle of family reunification, it can be changed to give preference only to the spouses and minor children of legal U.S. residents, as the Senate proposal indicates. Extended and adult family members can be excluded from consideration. Perhaps parents of legal residents, especially those parents who are dependents of their adult children, can be included.
The qualifications of prospective immigrants to meet the needs of American economy should be a major consideration in admitting them. It is equally important that they do not jeopardize the job prospects of American workers. They should also be able to support themselves and their families and not depend on the American welfare system.
It is possible to reduce the number of refugees and asylum seekers. After all, the Cold War ended more than two decades ago, so a major pressure for admitting refugees and asylum seekers disappeared.
Many countries, however, particularly In the Third World, will continue to experience sporadic unrest, causing a large exodus of people across borders. The United States should accept some of these refugees out of compassion, but other countries should also display such compassion. Other countries also have an obligation to do their share in granting asylum to those fleeing their native lands because of fear of political or religious persecution.
While modifying family reunification and emphasizing qualifications of prospective immigrants seem reasonable, the proposal of the two senators to favor those who can speak English is not palatable to most observers of politics. A large number of immigrants have come to the United States without adequate knowledge of English, but have learned the language out of necessity. The second generation of even those who continue to use their native language adopts English as primary language.
The proposal endorsed by Trump will reduce the number of immigrants 41 percent within a year and 50 percent by the 10th year. These numbers may not be acceptable to many in Congress; however, the number of immigrants can be reduced. More importantly, immigration policy should be re-evaluated to determine the desired number of legal immigrants and refugees to be admitted.
Kul B. Rai is professor emeritus of political science at Southern Connecticut State University.