President Donald Trump’s Aug. 2 announcement of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act seems like a perfect plan to overhaul our ailing immigration system.
Perfect, that is, if you’re a graduate student immigrating from, say, Canada.
That’s because the RAISE Act would “establish a skills-based immigration point system” requiring, among other things, candidates for U.S. citizenship to be fluent in English. Those applying for immigration would receive up to 12 points if they score in the top 10 percent of the English-speaking skills test.
Other points would be given for age (those aged 26 to 31 receive 10 points while those over 50 get zero), education (a bachelor’s degree is worth five or six points while a Ph.D. could be worth 10 to 13 points). Immigrants who have a job waiting for them also get extra points, especially if it’s a high-paying job.
Along with that graduate student from Canada, others who would fare well in this merit system are Nobel Prize winners (an automatic 25 points) and Olympic athletes (15 points for medal winners).
Does this describe an immigration system historically aimed at welcoming refugees in search of a better life, as reflected on a plaque affixed to the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?
Far from it. Church and immigration officials describe this proposed legislation in much more condemning and harsh terms.
“Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded,” stated Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas, and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. On behalf of the U.S. bishops, he urged the Senate to reject the proposal and instead focus on a comprehensive immigration reform.
John Sesini, managing partner for Sesini Law Group in Milwaukee, called the bill “a racist proposal that is also not grounded in facts.” Sesini provides free consultation on immigration questions at Casa ALBA Melanie in Green Bay, which grew out of a 25-year ministry to the Hispanic community at St. Willebrord Parish.
The RAISE Act would gut the current family-based migration system which allows U.S. permanent residents to sponsor visas for children, spouses, parents, grandparents and extended family members. It would also reduce the number of green cards distributed to immigrants, from 1 million to 500,000, and caps refugee admissions at 50,000 a year.
Because the proposal would make it extremely hard for immigrant families to stay together, Sesini believes it “contradicts our ethos, which recognizes our values to keep family together. It could force a son or daughter to live apart from their U.S. family for the rest of their lives.”
The bill also unfairly gives the impression that immigrants immediately draw public assistance.
“One point I cannot make strenuously enough is that non-legal permanent residents cannot access benefits to public assistance for themselves and legal permanent residents cannot access such benefits for five years after receiving permanent residence status,” said Sesini. “Thus, the president was either telling a lie or did not know the law when he made those statements announcing his support for the RAISE bill.”
For more than a decade, church and immigration leaders have been calling for immigration reform. This attempt to turn immigration into an employment opportunity for educated young adults fails the country and should be rejected.