It can be easy as a Muslim in today’s America to fall into the trap of tunnel vision on policy analysis, and that’s not completely unwarranted – we absolutely should be concerned and focusing on protecting our civil liberties in the face of sham counterterrorism operations and threats to human rights like the Muslim Ban can. But that doesn’t mean we can forget attacks on marginalized populations in America as a whole – such as the Trump Administration’s latest attempt at immigration reform.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, introduced by GOP Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue of Arkansas and Georgia, respectively, in February re-entered the public sphere last week after President Trump announced his support for the measure at White House briefing. In contrast to its relatively quiet initial introduction, Trump’s endorsement of the bill drew massive controversy almost immediately from both sides of the aisle.
The bill’s main provisions are relatively simple, but with enormous consequences: The RAISE Act seeks to cut legal immigration in half by reducing the number of green cards issued annually to just 500,000, limit “low-skilled” immigration in favor of immigrants with professional skills, further restrict the number of refugees the U.S. takes in each year, end the visa diversity lottery, and severely impact legal residents’ abilities to apply for their relatives’ immigration and green card status.
It goes without saying that such a bill is absurd at best and has blatant racist connotations at worst. Although the bill’s supporters argue that the motivation for the RAISE Act is based strictly out of security and economic concerns, there is no denying the intensely nativist undertones of even these arguments that call for the protection of native-born Americans’ welfare above all else and line up perfectly with the Trump campaign’s motto of “America First.” Need more proof? Under the harsh merit system levied by the RAISE Act, Trump himself wouldn’t have enough points to get a green card.
Basic arguments for the necessity of racial equality aside, the fact remains that this bill is just bad from a purely economic standpoint as well. A prime example: Even GOP Senator and former Presidential Candidate Lindsey Graham has been a vocal opponent of the bill and a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, explaining how his home state of South Carolina would be “devastating” to the state’s largely agricultural and tourism-centric economy and those of states like it. Nearly 1,500 economists with many and varied political opinions have come out in opposition to the Act with an open letter to the Trump Administration citing similar concerns, while only one scholar of note has attempted to defend the piece of shoddy policymaking – an analysis that was quickly shot down by fellow economists as being based on a poorly executed study.
It’s worth noting that this bill has been virtually dead on arrival in the Senate. Since its initial introduction in February, the RAISE Act has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and with prominent Republicans like Senator Graham and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) incensed in opposition, it’s nowhere near the 60 votes it needs in the Senate and would likely be immediately tanked in the unlikely event it ever makes it to the House as well.
But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to stop caring about immigration reform and just sit back and relax. On the contrary, our work is far from over. While this bill, for lack of a better term, just plain sucks, there is some grain of truth to the idea that the current immigration system is in dire need of comprehensive reform.
We must continue putting pressure on our legislators to come up with bill more similar to the one proposed in 2013 by the “Gang of Eight” – a bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans including Senators Graham and Rubio that would’ve established a lighter merit based system while also improving work visa options for low-skilled workers and creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country. We must continue making our voices heard and calling for increased processing of citizenship and visa applications, both of which are currently experiencing backlog like never before. We must continue fighting for the right of refugees to enter this country for a chance at basic life.
And we must never forget that when it comes to opponents of immigration, the question of whether we’re welcome and accepted here is really all of us or none of us.