GOP bill to limit legal immigration will wreak havoc on Africans, Asians, and Latinos

This bill would hurt legal immigrants waiting “in line.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on the right. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on the right. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Two Republican senators plan to release a bill Tuesday to aggressively go after the immigration system, slashing green cards and other visas to prevent immigrants from entering the United States through channels that are currently legal, as Politico first reported.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, cosponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), would ultimately reduce the number of people who can legally enter the country.

The measure would accomplish that by eliminating the diversity visa lottery — an annual lottery system that allocates 50,000 green cards to foreigners living in countries that have sent relatively few citizens to the United States over the past five years — and limiting the ways through which U.S. citizens can sponsor their relatives for green cards. The bill would also draw down the number of refugee admission from the 110,000 ceiling set for the 2017 fiscal year to 50,000, just like Trump’s executive order.

“I’m proposing legislation today that would get our green card system — the people that we allow to come here on a permanent basis and become legal, permanent residents — refocused on nuclear family reunification, so spouses and unmarried minor children; and reduce the number of total green cards we give out every year from a million to about 500,000, cutting it in half,” Cotton said Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.


U.S. citizens and permanent residents are currently able to sponsor family members such as spouses, parents, siblings, and married adult children. As Politico’s Seung Min Kim reported, the proposed legislation would narrow those options — allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor only spouses and unmarried minor children, with a small allocation for “aging adult parents whose American children are their caretakers.”

According to Cotton’s aides who spoke with Kim, the overall number of legal immigrants would drop by 40 percent in the first year and by 50 percent over a decade under this legislation.

Cotton and Perdue’s bill, which relies on attrition through annual caps, complements some of the harsher elements of President Donald Trump’s strong stance against unauthorized immigration, which relies on attrition through harsh enforcement.

These policies would add to a decades-long waiting list to enter the country — and wreak havoc among African, Asian, and Latino immigrants.

Eliminating the Diversity Visa lottery

In 1994, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency created the diversity immigrant visa program to ensure that people from countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants over the past five years could legally come into the United States. The idea behind this visa program is that it would help “diversify” America by focusing on African and European immigrants, instead of the mostly Asian and Latin American immigrants who already come to the country in large numbers.


Since the program began, more than one million qualified people and their family members have moved to the country. People who enter the United States this way can eventually apply qualify for citizenship.

The Department of State reported that 22,703 African immigrants and 18,904 European immigrants came to the United States through the program in 2014.

When senators wanted to eliminate the program through the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP quickly criticized the move because it represents one of the primary avenues for African and Caribbean migration.

Immigration experts have also touted the program’s benefits, saying that it could be good for entrepreneurs. About one-third of foreign born Americans are driving small business creation, with immigrants contributing about $775 billion in revenue to the GDP. What’s more, a United Nations report found that the global African diaspora sent remittances as a share of GDP which increased from 0.9 percent in 1995 to two percent in 2009.

“There seems to be something valuable to someone who has the courage to come to a country and start from scratch,” Anna Law, a professor of constitutional studies at the City University of New York, told QZ’s Annalisa Merelli last year.

Eliminating critical green card sponsorship categories

The State Department allocated 226,000 family-sponsored visas for the 2017 fiscal year, with the caveat that any single country cannot monopolize more than seven percent of the total visa issuance. That’s roughly 25,620 visas issued per country. Annually, roughly two-thirds of legal immigrants are admitted into the United States because of family ties. Those ties include immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and four other family-based categories based on the U.S. citizen’s petitioner legal status, age, family relationship, and marital status of the applicant.


Critics often complain that immigrants should “get in line” to come into the country legally. But there is a line. It’s currently about 4.4 million immigrants deep. Eliminating the green card sponsorship program for certain categories would only exacerbate that waiting period.

Between 2000 and 2009, people from Mexico, the Philippines, China, India, and the Dominican Republic sent the most family-based immigrants to the United States, according to William A. Kandel, an immigration policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service. These are also the countries that have some of the longest waiting list for immigrants to enter the country legally. That wait list includes more than 1.3 million Mexican applicants, 387,323 Filipino applicants, and 331,423 Indian applicants.

The backlog for visas isn’t just because of annual caps. They also come from processing delays resulting from increased background and criminal checks. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that in April 2016, “the U.S. government was still processing some family-sponsored visa applications dating to September 1992.”

Asian and Latino immigrants are particularly at risk by the elimination of certain green card categories. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that an unmarried adult child from Mexico sponsored by a U.S. citizen will have to wait about 21 years to become a legal immigrant. Meanwhile, a US. citizen who wants to sponsor a sibling from the Philippines will have to wait 24 years to be reunited.

For a team of Republicans who are adamant about curbing irregular migration, severely reducing the green card pathway may instead encourage illegal entry or even illegal reentry by people who want to reunite with their family members. Last year, 25,680 people were charged with illegal entry while 20,628 people were charged with illegal reentry, many of whom are motivated “by very basic human needs such as the desire to reunite with children or other close family members or evade violence or persecution at home,” according to Human Rights Watch.