In a press conference at the White House today, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton
and fellow Republican Sen. Sonny Perdue
of Georgia appeared alongside President Trump
to argue for new legislation to sharply reduce the number of legal immigrants the U.S. admits each year and favor those who speak English.
Cotton and Trump framed the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act
— or "RAISE Act" — primarily as a boon to American workers. The bill would create a "points system" to determine admission to the U.S., which would prioritize immigrants based on metrics such as educational attainment and English-language skills. It would also eliminate the current preferences
for assigning green cards to certain close family members of citizens and legal permanent residents, such as adult children. (Spouses and minor children would continue to receive preference.)
Legal immigration would be cut in half over the next ten years. Here's the full text
, from Cotton's website.
Trump said "the RAISE Act will reduce poverty, increase wages, and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars." Cotton, who called the current green card system "an obsolete disaster," said this
We bring over a million immigrants into this country a year. That's like adding the population of Montana every single year [or] adding the population of Arkansas every three years. The vast majority of those workers, or those immigrants, come here not because of their English-language abilities or their job skills, or their job offer, or their educational attainment. In fact, only 1 in 15 — only 1 in 15 out of a million new immigrants come here because of their job skills and their ability to succeed in this economy.
That means it puts great downward pressure on people who work with their hands and work on their feet. Now, for some people, they may think that that's a symbol of America's virtue and generosity. I think it's a symbol that we're not committed to working-class Americans. And we need to change that.
Remember that Cotton voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act without any replacement
, a move which would have ended health insurance coverage for over 300,000 poor and working-class Arkansans. And that he was instrumental
in derailing a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure to ease sentencing for nonviolent offenders, who are disproportionately low-income. And that he's led the charge
to roll back consumer-protection rules limiting the use of arbitration clauses in customer contracts.
But when it comes to immigration, Cotton paints himself as an economic populist. In the senator's telling, what ails the American worker is a surplus of cheap labor, fueled by immigration policies that favor unskilled foreigners.
In January, the Economic Policy Institute published a response
to a New York Times op-ed penned by Cotton in which he made a similar argument on immigration. It's relevant today:
Cotton is right to highlight the plight of American workers and to cite data from the Economic Policy Institute showing that since the late 1970s the least-educated workers in the United States have seen their wages decline. That’s a national emergency and should be treated as such by all members of Congress. Cotton also has a valid point when he alludes to the fact that the low-wage workers most likely to be hurt by new low-skilled immigration are immigrants who arrived earlier. But Cotton blames immigration and “automation and globalization” for wage stagnation without offering any solutions for raising wages other than shrinking the labor market.
Tight labor markets do tend to raise wages, but the decline in union representation, caused by weak labor laws and extremely hostile businesses—and the corresponding reduction in power workers have in the workplace—has been a far more important factor in keeping wages low. The declining real value of the federal minimum wage (worth 25 percent less than in 1968) is the other key factor.
So where does Sen. Cotton stand on collective bargaining? Does he support a $15 an hour national minimum wage? He doesn’t say. Even raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would eliminate the largest estimated negative effects of immigrant participation in the low-wage labor market on the wages of U.S.-born workers.
P.S.: Then there was White House advisor Stephen Miller's
exchange today with CNN's Jim Acosta on immigration, racism, and the true meaning of the Statue of Liberty. A few deep breaths are advised before watching.