No, the RAISE Act Isn't Economically or Morally Flawed

By Dan Cadman on August 10, 2017

As has been widely reported, Sens. Cotton and Perdue recently introduced a bill called the RAISE Act, which would significantly amend the categories in which immigrants may obtain residence visas, away from the traditional, extended family chain migration system in favor of a merit-based system.

President Trump has endorsed the proposal, while progressives — who often tout themselves as in favor of more-more-more STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) workers — suddenly found the bill repugnant.

Some have gone so far as to call it "racist" because it would adversely affect many Hispanic families that benefit from a family-oriented system, without acknowledging that the current system is significantly tilted in their favor at the expense of other groups where the visa quota family categories are concerned since there are only so many visas that may be given out each year in those categories, which are in many instances severely oversubscribed.

Several of my colleagues have taken a look at the RAISE Act and think it holds a great deal of promise for ending many of the abuses, including the rampant fraud, inherent in our present system, and in establishing the means to limit legal immigration to more acceptable levels while at the same time serving the national interest. I also like what I see.

It was with interest, then, that I reviewed a recent item published in National Review Online, "Should We Embrace an 'America First' Immigration Policy: The liberal reaction was absurd, but there are real flaws in the RAISE Act", by Robert Cherry.

The crux of Cherry's argument, that the bill has flaws, can be found in these two paragraphs:

A more sustainable criticism of the proposal lies in its halving of the number of green cards issued annually. (It dramatically reduces the number given through family unification while leaving the number of employment-based green cards the same.) This is the position taken by Bloomberg: Shifting to a Canadian point system is long overdue, but "admitting far fewer immigrants would do enormous damage to the U.S. economy and the federal government's fiscal stability."

Reducing the number of poor immigrants also raises moral concerns regarding the world's most impoverished: How much more would they benefit from migration to the United States, compared with the more professional applicants that would benefit from Trump's proposal? While Miller's "America First" focus led him to dismiss completely this concern, we must find a way to enact more merit-based immigration without decimating the share of the world's poor who can legally enter the United States.

I don't think that these arguments stand the test of rigorous examination.

With regard to the first point, many experts in the field, such as George Borjas, have taken issue with the position that admitting immigrants en masse in any way serves the economy, and assert that, in fact, an unfocused chain migration system does the opposite.

Although some economists, thinkers, and demographers argue that a constant influx of workers is needed to shore up our Social Security and other benefit nets, this seems to me to be a kind of giant human Ponzi scheme because it requires the United States to try to use ever-larger numbers of immigrants to offset shortfalls of prior generations. It reminds me of the kind of pit that many industries (such as automobile manufacturing) and even state and local governments have fallen into after repeated contract concessions to unions over pay and pensions drove them into near-penury and, in some cases, outright bankruptcy. Is such a short-sighted approach really in the national interest?

As to the second, surely anyone can see that the answer to aiding the world's poor isn't to invite all of them into the United States. Is that truly a responsible "moral" position to take? If we can't take them all, then how do we pick and choose among those we allow in with any pretension whatever to fairness or equity toward those shut out? What about the poor already trying to scrape by in our own midst? Are we doing enough for them? Is it fair to force them to compete even further with other have-nots? And, if we admit so many poor and uneducated, do we not risk degrading our already eroded middle class and even further, so that our society starts to look ever more like a medieval two-tier system of lords and underlings?

It seems to me that we can indeed do more for the world's dispossessed, but it is not through using mass immigration as a substitute for responsible foreign aid programs that focus on bootstrapping societies upward and ensuring that those dollars, food, and goods aren't skimmed off by kleptocrats in the countries where they are contributed.

All in all, the RAISE Act is a good beginning toward meaningfully amending our legal immigration system and is not inherently flawed, contrary to Cherry's views.