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The RAISE Act, an immigration bill that drags us down

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President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., alongside Sen. Tom Cotton during an announcement on the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act on Aug. 2, 2017 in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Zach Gibson/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
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Immigration reform is on our lips, yet no coherent idea is taking hold of our tongues. So far, all of the bills proposed have an insurmountable flaw. This latest one offered up by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, and endorsed by President Donald Trump, is no different.

Reducing and curbing immigration

Called the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, Cotton and Perdue’s bill proposes implementing a “point system” for merit and qualifications, significantly fortifying the barriers to immigrant entry with an almost immediate 41 percent reduction in visas to about 500,000 people per year.

Policy experts agree that there is no discernible gain to shrinking the workforce needed to purpose our own economic needs. “A growing labor force — aided by immigration — not only helps to shore up Social Security’s finances, but it also results in greater demand for goods and services, contributes to economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship, creates jobs and improves the long-term U.S. economic outlook,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Earning points

Each year, up to 140,000 employment-based green cards are awarded. With this bill, the application process for such a green card would be reconfigured. An applicant would need 30 points to apply, with points earned for age, English language proficiency, academic qualifications, wealth, job offers and international medals or honors.

So, a 27-year-old with a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of San Francisco, scoring 60 percent on the English proficiency test, will ratchet up 24 points. That candidate would need a job paying him an annual salary of $130,000 to make it to the eligible range with 32 points. And if that same person had $1.38 million to spare, that would make that candidate quite a bit more eligible.

But what if a candidate is 20 years old, studying computer science and psychology, but not yet a graduate of Harvard University, proficient in English (perhaps from one of Britain’s erstwhile colonies), furiously marinating an idea that would expand our world lens but not yet earning a salary? That person would likely fail the RAISE litmus test.

Neither would a 25-year-old immigrant with a STEM bachelor’s degree from his country, reasonably proficient in English, committed to a startup in the Bay Area with a starting annual salary of $70,000.

Dean Garfield, CEO of Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which represents tech companies including those occupying a footprint in San Francisco like Google, Dropbox and Adobe, strongly repudiated the bill. “This is not the right proposal to fix our immigration system because it does not address the challenges tech companies face, injects more bureaucratic dysfunction, and removes employers as the best judge of the employee merits they need to succeed and grow the U.S. economy,” Garfield said in a news release.

Manipulating diversity

This bill is a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a growing non-white immigrant population; an attempt to engineer the diversity in our nation.

“So how does the president’s support of the Cotton plan to narrowly limit immigration based on a subjective skills-based merit system affect San Francisco?” asked Adrienne Pon, executive director at the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigration Affairs (OCEIA) in San Francisco, her question already framing her response.

“From low-wage to high-wage earners with a diversity of skills, everyone contributes to the system that allows us all to thrive.  Limiting immigration to a few with ‘desirable’ characteristics smacks of racism, bias and ethnic cleansing,” Pon said.

And there’s the English proficiency criteria — a tricky consideration, both phony and ineffective in determining merit, that serves to eliminate applicants from many countries and give preference to others. This preference splits itself largely along race and color lines. It cannot be denied that the Anglosphere (including England, Ireland, Australia and Canada) has a larger population set who speak English than, say, China or Brazil.

Leaving family behind

One of the aims of the bill is to reduce the number of family-based visas issued. Currently, family members of immigrants are given priority for green cards, and two-thirds of the 1 million annual U.S. immigrant visas are issued to family members. These include adult children, siblings and grandparents. This will no longer be the case if this bill comes to pass.

The senators have determined that the definition of family is “a nuclear family,” but familial relationships defy definition and are mostly cultural and mutable. Prohibiting admittance of loved ones is more likely to increase illegal ways of entering and staying in the United States with family members desperate to unite.

“There’s no way to sanitize the intention here — it’s quite clear that keeping certain immigrant families apart is part of the administration’s game plan,” criticized Pon. “The ability to reunite families, lay down roots and contribute in a multitude of ways to our cultural and economic strength will be negatively impacted by this proposed immigration plan,” she concluded.

In short, the RAISE Act will drastically reduce immigration, curb diversity, complicate the evaluation of merit, increase bureaucracy and exclude family members from being part of the fabric of family life.

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.

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