Trump endorses proposal to halve legal immigration levels

U.S. President Donald Trump attends an event in the East Room of the White House.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump attends an event in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Credit: Win McNamee

Credit: Win McNamee

President Donald Trump gave his seal of approval Wednesday to legislation that would halve legal immigration levels, providing a notable boost to a contentious proposal that has yet to advance on Capitol Hill.

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U.S. senators David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, flanked Trump during a brief event in the White House's Roosevelt Room, where the commander-in-chief proclaimed the legislation would "reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars."

“For decades the United States has operated a very low-skill immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants,” Trump said. “This policy has placed substantial pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources.”

Trump was touting a bill his staff developed with Perdue and Cotton over the past few months, which is an expanded version of legislation the two Republican senators initially unveiled in February.

The updated legislation would institute a merit-based points system similar to the process used in Canada and Australia for skilled foreigners seeking to permanently move to the U.S. for work. The goal, according to Perdue's office, is to make sure U.S. businesses look outside the country only for high-skilled workers they can't find in the U.S., while incentivizing the employment of American workers, particularly for gigs that require less education.

It would also keep most of the bill's original proposals in tact, including slashing the number of refugees allowed into the country each year and limiting the types of family members legal residents can bring to the U.S. Under their proposal, spouses, dependent children and sick parents would be given preference, but not adult children, healthy parents or extended family.

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In other words, the legislation would codify many of Trump’s key campaign promises.

Backers of the bill hope Trump’s seal of approval will help increase its odds of passage in the Senate, where Republican leaders so far have not indicated any interest in advancing the proposal. While there is some consensus in the party when it comes to illegal immigration, the legal side is seen as more controversial, since many U.S. businesses rely on foreign workers being able to settle in the U.S.

The proposal is likely to face stiff opposition from Democrats and many immigrant and refugee advocacy groups, who slammed the first proposal.

Perdue disagreed with their assessment, arguing his bill has wide appeal.

“Why wouldn’t you support this?” he told reporters later. “It’s pro-growth, it’s pro-worker. It’s actually been proven to work. This is not an experiment.”