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NWA editorial: The wrong issue

Cotton, Trump target legal immigration for changes

To buy into the so-called reform of federal immigration law proposed by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and supported by his friend, Donald Trump, one must accept that the United States' system of legal immigration is responsible for economic harm to U.S. citizens.

That's a highly suspect assertion, and Cotton's proposed RAISE Act ignores the far bigger issue of illegal immigration that's a core concern of the voting bloc that put Trump in the White House and advocates for how the nation treats those within its border regardless of birthplace.

What’s the point?

A proposal to change legal immigration rules for the United States government doesn’t address the right issue, which is how the nation handles illegal immigration.

One has to wonder if Cotton, Trump and legislation co-sponsor David Perdue of Georgia are nibbling at the edge of immigration issues because they don't have the foggiest idea how to address the real problem.

That, of course, didn't stop candidate Trump from talking big -- yuuuge, really -- about his America-first focus on getting rid of all those folks who are in this country illegally.

When Trump was on the campaign trail promising to stem the flow of immigration into the country, is it even reasonable to believe Americans thought his "reform" would focus on the system of legal immigration? Nobody touts building a wall on the nation's southern border as a method for limiting legal immigration. No, when those cheering and jeering crowds took a breath between chants of "Lock her up" and "Make America Great Again," they rallied for a presidential candidate who was going to do something about the estimated 11 million people in this country illegally. They weren't thinking about the 1 million who go through the burdensome and overly time-consuming legal process to obtain legal permanent resident status, commonly referred to as green cards.

Legal immigration isn't the critical immigration issue facing this country. Trump stirred up his voters with promises to stop the tide of illegal border crossings and to find a way to deal with the millions of foreign nationals who either overstayed their visas or never had legal permission to enter the country to begin with.

But Cotton and his co-sponsor, Perdue, know lower-hanging fruit when they see it. Trump and Co. campaigned so hard on that America-first mantra and their related anti-immigrant fervor that something must be done. Given the makeup of Congress, it's unlikely the RAISE act is going anywhere. But it will give Trump his opportunity to say he tried and it's that awful ol' Congress that's not getting the job done. Maybe he'll end up suggesting the nation's immigration laws should just be repealed first and replaced later. Sad!

What Cotton, et al, have decided to do is focus the nation's legal immigration system on skills rather than on family connections of people who are already legally residing in the United States. The least attractive part of their plan is its goal of reducing legal immigration by 41 percent in its first year of implementation and fully by half after 10 years.

It's already an arduous process to apply and be considered for legal permanent resident status. The system is backlogged. We've witnessed great candidates in the country on work visas who have ended up going back to their native land frustrated to give up their struggle for legal U.S. residence. These are really not the people creating problems for our nation, which has ample capacity to be able to absorb them.

The RAISE Act's shrinking of the legal immigration pool flies in the face of addressing illegal immigration. At least a part of the reason we have illegal immigration is that the U.S. system offers little hope for a chance to come to this nation by legal means. The country's strong history of immigration and compassion does not demand open borders, but it surely calls for the development of an efficient and effective system that recognizes the understandable desire some people have to seek their fortunes here.

And earning points in the RAISE Act for one's proficiency in speaking English seems particularly restrictive, which this act is certainly intended to be. Our country has seen plenty of immigrants who get here before being proficient but who contributed greatly to their communities and the nation as a whole. Let's also not forget that legal permanent residency is not the same as citizenship. We certainly believe learning English is a vital part of U.S. citizenship, which quite often follows one's achievement of legal residency status.

Cotton's proposal is one more attempt to play to the base that got Donald Trump elected and will likely play a role in getting future GOP contenders some notice. It almost seems they're counting on Americans not to think too deeply about this proposal, just to take it on face value that Trump and these senators are doing something -- anything! -- on immigration.

The nation needs comprehensive immigration reform. Even Hillary Clinton acknowledged that, although her brand would have involved amnesty for a few million potential Democratic voters. The benign neglect of the federal government for decades has gotten the United States into this mess, so one can't blame any leader in the federal government for wanting to make changes.

The suggestion that the U.S. can deport everyone here illegally puts far too much confidence in our federal government that allowed us to get into this mess, so there must be some pathway to legal residence for at least some of our neighbors. That, however, would be radioactive for a politician trying to curry favor with Trump's hardest-core supporters. And so we get an attack on legal immigration, instead.

The RAISE Act might be a starting point for discussion, and if Congress where the deliberative body it should be, perhaps something workable might emerge through collaboration. But pairing modifications on legal immigration standards with a draconian reduction in the numbers is a non-starter. As we said, legal immigration is not the problem the United States needs to solve.

Any effort to make the nation's legal immigration system work better will be short-circuited as long as the federal government has such a terrible record on the issue of border security and how it manages the issue of illegal immigration. It can hardly be said that progress is made by making misguided adjustments to one while there is no comprehensive effort to deal with the other.

Commentary on 08/13/2017

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