Trump endorses new immigration bill; agriculture could be affected due to bill’s labor desires
August 2, 2017
President Donald Trump hosted Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia at the White House today and endorsed their bill to change the U.S. immigration system to reduce the number of legal immigrants coming into the United States and emphasize highly educated immigrants over what are regarded as the low-skilled laborers, which could be interpreted to mean those in agriculture.
David Perdue is Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue's first cousin.
The Cotton-Perdue bill, which is titled the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, does not seem to have much chance of enactment as written because most Democrats and some Republicans will oppose it, particularly in the Senate, but it may start a conversation that could lead to changes in immigration law.
The bill does not target the H2A program, which brings in temporary workers, but the bill would have implications for illegal immigrants who may try to qualify for permanent residency and for the prospect of bringing in workers in the livestock and dairy industries, which need year-round workers.
Agriculture was not mentioned at the White House ceremony. Most farm groups didn't respond to requests for comment immediately after the announcement.
Paul Schlegel, the American Farm Bureau Federation official in charge of its immigration portfolio, told The Hagstrom Report the Cotton-Perdue bill does not address Farm Bureau's priorities of establishing a legal program to bring workers into the United States or provide legal status for current undocumented workers.
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U.S. farmers rely on undocumented workers because the current system is "broken" and does not provide a system for bringing the workers into the country, Schlegel said.
Schlegel added if the Cotton-Perdue bill were enacted, Farm Bureau would want to be sure farmers' current workers are protected. One of the issues for future policy, Schlegel said, may be how farm work is defined in terms of skill level.
Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, said he had only seen media reports on the bill and White House event, but issued the following statement:
"Any immigration policy proposal needs to take into account the agricultural system's dependence on the highly productive, honorable labor of immigrants, a majority of whom currently lack authorized immigration status. Farm workers possess skills and experience that our economy needs, but many farm workers are living and working under the threat of arrest, deportation and separation of their families. Congress should ensure the stability of the farm labor force and security of our food supply by granting undocumented farm workers the opportunity to earn immigration status and citizenship. Employers should improve wages and working conditions to attract and retain farm workers, and some are doing so. If additional farm workers are needed in the future for our farms and ranches, they should have the opportunity to enter this country as immigrants and the opportunity to become citizens with economic freedom and democratic rights."
Trump said he campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system, and he said that for too long the United States has brought in low-skilled, low-wage workers and that the American holders of low-skill jobs, including minorities, have been the "hit the hardest" by this system.
Cotton said the current immigration system has "put pressure" on U.S. laborers while "we lose out on the most skilled immigrants." Perdue said most immigrants don't come into the United States with high skills and the new system would be based on the current Canadian and Australian immigration systems, which encourage highly skilled immigrants.
In explaining the bill, Cotton said in a news release, "For decades, our immigration system has been completely divorced from the needs of our economy, and working Americans' wages have suffered as a result. Our legislation will set things right. We will build an immigration system that raises working wages, creates jobs and gives every American a fair shot at creating wealth, whether your family came over on the Mayflower or just took the oath of citizenship."
Perdue added in a joint release with Cotton, "President Trump campaigned on growing our economy and fixing our immigration system. Right now, our current immigration system does not meet the needs of our economy. We want to welcome talented individuals from around the world who wish to come to the United States legally to work and make a better life for themselves. The RAISE Act will create a skills-based system that is more responsive to the needs of our economy and preserves the quality of jobs available to American workers."
Cotton and Perdue said the RAISE ACT would:
» Establish a skills-based points system. The RAISE Act would replace the current permanent employment-visa system with a skills-based points system, akin to the systems used by Canada and Australia. The system would prioritize those immigrants who are best positioned to succeed in the United States and expand the economy. Applicants earn points based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative.
» Prioritize immediate family households. The RAISE Act would retain immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents while eliminating preferences for certain categories of extended and adult family members.
» Eliminate the outdated diversity visa lottery. The diversity lottery is plagued with fraud, advances no economic or humanitarian interest, and does not even promote diversity. The RAISE Act would eliminate the 50,000 visas arbitrarily allocated to this lottery.
» Place a responsible limit on permanent residency for refugees. The RAISE Act would limit refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 per year, in line with a 13-year average.